Monday, July 14, 2008

AB 3034 On Ice?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

See update below

The Fresno Bee is reporting that although AB 3034 passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it has been delayed on the Senate floor by Don Perata, who was concerned that it might not attract the two Republican votes it needs to pass (since it needs a 2/3 vote). The Fresno Bee's story currently explains:

Republicans, Democrats and Gov. Schwarzenegger agree that the current ballot measure lacks oversight language. But the two parties have not agreed on how exactly to fix the measure, which lawmakers originally crafted in 2002.

It's entirely possible that this stems from Roy Ashburn's concerns about "oversight" though exactly what is at issue isn't clear from this report, though there may be more details in the morning. Ashburn has been upset about the lack of a new business plan, but AB 3034 would provide for just that - an updated business plan. I don't know exactly what kind of oversight he and the Republicans want, but I'm not averse in the abstract to strong oversight rules for this or for any other project. The devil is as always in the details.

I have also heard that Abel Maldonado, my own State Senator and a moderate Republican whose vote is crucial if AB 3034 is to meet the 2/3 requirement, has voiced concerns that there isn't much for his district in this bill. That's nonsense. He has probably forgotten that his Central Coast district includes southern Santa Clara County, which will benefit immensely from high speed rail as San José and Gilroy (just outside his district but close to Morgan Hill and San Martin which ARE in the 15th) will both have stations. Additionally, residents in the Monterey and Santa Cruz County portions of his district will have much faster travel options for getting to the rest of the state, particularly Southern California, and vice-versa - always an important consideration for our tourism-dependent economies. The $1 billion for non-HSR projects will also benefit the 15th district, helping fund the Coast Daylight service from SF to LA via Salinas and San Luis Obispo, potentially helping improve service on the Pacific Surfliners, and helping Santa Cruz and Monterey with our own local rail projects.

We can also look to other Senate Republicans who would be acting against their constituents' interests in blocking AB 3034. We already explained how Ashburn would be letting down his Bakersfield constituents; the same would be true of Jeff Denham - residents in Merced in particular would see dramatic economic benefits from the HSR station that will be located in their community, and the bill would get Modesto one step closer to a station of their own. Dave Cogdill, Senate Minority Leader, also has constituents who would see major benefits, particularly in Fresno. The same holds true for Dick Ackerman, from Fullerton, and Tom Harman who represents Irvine. Surely they wish to bring economic opportunity, affordable transportation, and development opportunities to their residents.

The Senate will be in recess until August 4, which is the soonest that AB 3034 could come up for a vote. Perhaps that's convenient since I'll be out of town from this Thursday until that date. But time is running out for Proposition 1 to be amended, so hopefully legislators can see the light and the importance of ensuring that this bill passes so that voters have a solid proposal before them this November, a plan to build the nation's leading rail infrastructure and catch up with the rest of the world before it's too late.

Update: Tuesday 7:30 AM: More details have emerged. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports that TODAY is the printing deadline for the November ballot and that there might be some sort of "supplemental ballot" with a revised Prop 1 while the original Prop 1 would remain on the ballot. Sorry folks, that's not remotely workable.

The article goes on to detail some of the Republican objections:

Republicans said the bond should be postponed again. Not only does the state face an estimated $15.2 billion shortfall, they said, but there still are questions about the high-speed program's business plan.

State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, said the bond measure should be delayed because "it's not fully cooked yet."

State Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, also opposes the bond. The proposed amendments were too little, too late, he said.

These folks have never been strong supporters of the HSR bond. Hollingsworth has been talking down HSR since at least 2007. Dutton is trying to have it both ways, as was Roy Ashburn - they claim the measure needs revisions, but they then vote against the revisions. It's absurd. If they were truly supportive of the project they'd have backed AB 3034 and wouldn't be delaying it like this. Obviously their goal is to kill the bond without having overtly done so.

The Sacramento Bee has more details on the "oversight" concern - Ashburn wants to shut down the Authority and replace it with a Department of Rail. Perhaps it's a good idea, perhaps it's not. But it's an 11th-hour objection that should have been raised earlier. Cathleen Galgiani noted that AB 3034 would have strengthened oversight of the Authority and limited their ability to spend money on themselves. Further changes could certainly be made over time.

It seems to me that Republicans are using niggling objections as an excuse to kill the bill and, therefore, to try and kill the project outright. Republican politicians believe that things like oil drilling are preferable to providing the sort of sustainable transportation that California needs to remain competitive in the 21st century. We can win the Prop 1 vote without AB 3034 - but AB 3034 would have made it easier.

It is a shame that Sacramento Republicans preferred to kill the bill and try and kill the entire project rather than have worked with the bill's sponsors and supporters from an earlier date to seek changes everybody can live with.


Brandon in California said...

Some sort of deadline must be approaching... when does AB 3034 need to pass to enable the change in language to Prop 1?

Additionally, if AB 3034 does not pass... then we are left with the previous version... which is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

The original bond measure does not allow for public / private partnership arrangement, doesn't not meet any of the objections raised during the Lowenthal committee hearings and presumeably would not have the support of Schwarzenegger.

Its hard to image that it would have any chance of passage by the voters.

Rob Dawg said...

We can also look to other Senate Republicans who would be acting against their constituents' interests in blocking AB 3034.

Robert, I understand your zeal but it really does no good to paint everyone who questions HSR or has a different opinion of their constituent interests as being wrong or obstructionist. For one, everything that needs a 2/3rds vote is going to be held for reverse ransom regardless of content or the actual objections to any specific bill.

Aug 8 would be last chance to have any changes to language. After that opponents could possibly block the entire vote with court challenges.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Of course the bill is being held for ransom, just as Republicans are using the 2/3 rule to hold the state budget hostage. But whereas we have to have a budget sometime, there is no commitment from Republicans to build high speed rail. Elected Republicans still believe, against all available evidence, that an oil-based transportation system is workable. Their real solution to gas prices and the airline crisis is more drilling, not more rail. They continue to believe global warming is a hoax and are willfully blind to the positive economic impact of high speed rail.

Their objections are transparently ridiculous. They're last-minute concerns that serve as the ostensible purpose fronting their real desire - killing high speed rail.

Brandon in California said...

Anon 2:37,
I do not believe legislative authority is required for a public entity to enter into a public-private partnership. The CHSRA Board can make that decision themselves.

However, I believe it is AB 3034 that would require such an arrangement... removing the CHSRA Board from that decision.

David Wolfe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Not to mention most people still don't know what they are talking about...

Rafael said...

The Republican members of the state senate have had at least four years to come up with language that addresses their concerns regarding the perceived financial and project management risks related to the HSR ballot initiative. If they allow AB3034 to lapse by default, it will be thanks to their gross incompetence as legislators that will saddle yet another generation of Californians with a purely oil-based transportation infrastructure.

Hopefully Gov. Schwarzenegger is applying what pressure he can to either force his party colleagues to accept compromise verbiage today or else, to extend the deadline to late August.

After 10 years of planning, the people of California deserve a chance to make up their own mind on a properly formulated proposal. If it takes a few more weeks to dot the i's and cross the t's, so be it. This is the largest single infrastructure project in the history of the state, voters will understand if legislators decide they need extra time to get it ready.

A legislative cloodge involving a supplemental ballot is not at all desirable as it will only add to the confusion and further undermine voter confidence in anything whatsoever that comes out of Sacramento.

Anonymous said...

The Republicans are concern trolling.

This is not about "objections to the language". This is about an objection to the whole project, and more than that, a failure of the imagination on their part.

The Republican solution is always to just do more of the thing that's causing the problem, and that's what they'll pursue.

Also note that the Republican with the loudest voice on this, Tom McClintock, doesn't believe in global warming, doesn't care about gas prices, and generally could give a flip about the concerns regular Californians have to deal with.

This is obstructionism of the same type that succeeded in 04 and 06. We can't let it happen again.

Brandon in California said...

I believe the average person knows nothing about AB 3034. And, only a small number of people know about HSR.

If AB 3034 does not move forward, and no other action is taken, the previous version of the HSR bill still stands. I believe it is SB 79? It would take a 2/3rds vote of the legislature to remove it.

I am of the opinion that a majority of voters will not know the difference between versions (with AB 3034 or no AB 3034).... perhaps only learning of it through a possible anti-prop 1 campaign.

But, I don't think the averge Joe Voter would care about public-private pratnerships anyway... they just want it built as quickly as possible to infuse the state with some economic stimulus.

Additionally, a counter point that the CHSRA Board can & would still pursue private sector financing mutes that argument.

If the GOP is ice-ing AB 3034 really is an effort to stall Prop 1.. it seems desparate and ill-fated. And, it may turn out that any attention it gets... will actually serve as marketing and press for Proposition 1.

That is free stuff.

Robert Cruickshank said...

rafael and anon are both absolutely right. The Republicans are playing games here. They had plenty of time to suggest changes - they're in the Legislature too, nothing was stopping them from proposing such a bill sooner.

As to Prop 1, brandon, I'm about to put up a post suggesting just how much the public supports this - and how far out of step the Senate Republican leadership is.

Brandon in California said...

Cool! That very thought just crossed my mind... what the polling numbers show.

By the way, I just checked when absentte ballots are distributed and expected back to the local County Clerks.... early October for dsitribution and October 28th for returns.

As I recall... more and more people are voting by absentee ballot. And, it stands to reason that turnout is expected to be huge for Nobember 4th... encouraging more people to vote early.