As the decision point for awarding $8 billion in federal HSR stimulus nears, and with some $50 billion in applications submitted, California's federal representatives are making a strong push to ensure California gets a significant portion of those funds:
Employing every tool of persuasion from gift books and phone calls to hallway chats and high-level letters, including several to be sent as early as Friday to the White House, the state's lawmakers are making their case for $4.7 billion. But with 23 other states likewise seeking funds, and merit supposedly mattering more than politics, success could be elusive.
"We think because California is further along in this effort, we're well placed to receive federal funding," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, insisted Thursday....
"We're doing a number of things," Costa said, when asked how California is promoting its high-speed rail bid.
Still, the longtime rail advocate acknowledged that California will "probably" not receive its entire request. Speaking at a U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference Thursday morning, Costa shared the stage with congressional colleagues who have their own plans.
Which isn't unexpected. I would be surprised if we got less than $3 billion, and would be pleasantly surprised if we got $4 billion or higher. There will be pressure on USDOT to distribute the funds widely, but there is also a recognition that if you spread the money too thinly, it won't do much good at all.
Jim Costa has been a longtime champion of HSR, having authored the 1996 legislation that created the CHSRA and got this project off the ground. But our Senators are getting in on the action as well:
"I'm very hopeful we'll get a large portion of what we're asking for," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said Thursday. "We're ready for it."
As part of the lobbying effort, Boxer said she, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be sending President Barack Obama another letter as early as Friday. It will likely remind Obama that California is providing $9 billion from a bond measure, and it will be accompanied by letters from the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce to show support spanning the political spectrum.
Trying for the personal touch, Costa sent Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel copies of historian Stephen Ambrose's book about the building of the transcontinental railroad, "Nothing Like it in the World." And this week, California High-Speed Rail Authority leaders roamed Capitol Hill and huddled with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Since January, records also show, lobbyist Mark Kadesh -- formerly Feinstein's chief of staff -- has been paid $120,000 to advocate for California high-speed rail.
I don't know that a Stephen Ambrose book is going to make the difference - perhaps sending Rahm to Spain to ride a special AVE train with the destinations changed from Spanish cities to California cities ("next stop: Los Angeles Union Station" instead of "proxima estacion: Barcelona-Sants") would have more of an impact - but it does show that CA is making an all-out effort.
Of just as much importance is the fact that Obama Administration officials have repeatedly stated that California is likely to get a significant piece of the HSR stimulus. I am confident they'll keep to that pledge.
Rod Diridon colorfully explained to the New York Times:
"We've likened it to California and the high-speed rail program being the ugliest girl in town, or the ugly duckling, and she was growing up and nobody wanted to be associated with her," Diridon said. "Her uncle gives her $9 billion, and everyone wants to take her to the prom. Well, everyone wants to take us to the prom now."
I'm not quite sure that's accurate. It's more like the attractive boy or girl in your class who you had a huge crush on, but you weren't sure if they were available or not; their parents are kind of strict and tightfisted and might not approve of he or she dating. But now you've heard from the parents that they do approve of the date, and what's more, they're willing to give you some money to buy him or her dinner. Now you know what to do - bust a move.