Monday, August 11, 2008

AB 3034 Delayed

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

***See Updates Below***

So after a weekend of frenzied activism to get Arnold to sign AB 3034...the Assembly adjourned for the day without taking action on the bill:

With a veto threat looming, lawmakers on Monday missed a deadline to replace November's $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond ballot measure with a better version.

Or did they?

Rail supporters believe the clock hasn't run out yet.

"We can still get it on the ballot," said Jo Linda Thompson, a lobbyist for the Association for California High Speed Trains. "We are pursuing it with all the energy we can."...

Lawmakers still have until Saturday to add a measure to the ballot, in this case Prop. 1a. The question is whether they could still remove Prop. 1, which will be included on guides mailed to voters that are scheduled to go to print soon.

The Assembly believes that they *do* have that ability, hence the delay. The Secretary of State's office will likely make the final determination, based on their reading of election law.

If it turns out the deadline to replace Prop 1 has passed, the Assembly should kill AB 3034 and go with Prop 1 as it currently exists, rather than add Prop 1A alongside Prop 1. I'm not exactly enthused about telling voters "No on 1, Yes on 1A!" because it's just not going to work.

Still, it's a shame this uncertainty even exists. AB 3034 was proposed months and months ago; it was the topic of the very first post on this blog way back in March. The Legislature had plenty of time to act on it, but the delay - especially in the Senate, by Republicans such as Roy Ashburn - put its proponents up against the wall. Arnold's temper tantrum doesn't help matters.

AB 3034 isn't necessary to high speed rail, of course. Prop 1 is a very good proposal and we strongly support it no matter what happens to AB 3034. It's another depressing reminder of the lack of urgency in our state on not just HSR, but mass transit and dealing with our dependence on expensive oil. I am confident Prop 1 will pass, but it will pass without very many politicians having shown leadership on HSR. Arnold wanted AB 3034 but prefers to throw a tantrum instead of getting it through the Legislature. Our two US Senators have been missing in action while their Nevada colleague gets $45 million to study a maglev system that'll never get built. Their leadership isn't necessary, but it would help reduce annoying problems like this.

So we'll see what happens to AB 3034. The activism we engaged in over the weekend was valuable, and if anything needs to be ramped up to ensure Arnold does support HSR, whether it's through signing AB 3034 or strongly endorsing and campaigning for Prop 1(A). Look for more activism as the general election draws near.

Finally, Speaker Karen Bass' office put out this video about high speed rail. It has some excellent quotes from Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, author of AB 3034, and it's especially gratifying to see her pushing the the cost of doing nothing is not zero frame I have been articulating since May.

UPDATE 1 - the AP reports Speaker Karen Bass called off the vote because of budget negotiations:

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said the session was called off because of budget negotiations.

"The speaker is focused exclusively on the budget today," said Bass spokesman Steve Maviglio. ...

The deadline for listing initiatives in the supplemental voter ballot is Aug. 16, but lawmakers have extended that deadline in the past.

"The governor will continue to work with the Legislature to get the improved high-speed rail language on the ballot," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. "There will be one high-speed rail initiative on the ballot, and the governor will be out campaigning for that."

So that clarifies things somewhat. As I explained over at Calitics this morning, the state budget itself is running up against the same ballot deadline we are - and since the budget solution is likely to include a few ballot measures, Speaker Bass chose to prioritize that over AB 3034 - especially if the legislature can itself extend its own deadline.

The quotes in the article, especially the one from Arnold's press flack, are also encouraging. Arnold seems to understand the issue and the need to ensure there's just one HSR prop. And of course it's very encouraging that Arnold will be campaigning for it - I think his term as governor is a failure, but let's face it, it's better to have him arguing for HSR rather than against it.

UPDATE 2 (Tuesday 12:40 PM): Cathleen Galgiani has announced that she will hold AB 3034 and NOT send it to Arnold for signature until a budget is passed. From a press release she sent me:

"I respect the Governor's desire to finalize the budget and urge my colleagues in the Legislature to work out a compromise immediately so we can all move forward on the important issues facing California," stated Galgiani.

"The Assembly is set to take up AB 3034 today and I expect it to pass with resounding support. AB 3034 is essential to Proposition 1 because it implements fiscal controls to ensure that the state bond funds are utilized in the most cost effective and efficient way. However, once it passes, I intend to hold the bill from Governor Schwarzenegger until the budget is finalized to ensure that Proposition 1 remains as strong as possible. With rising gas prices, congested highways and a rising population, Californians need more transportation options than ever."

If AB 3034 is signed by the Governor and sent to the Secretary of State before Saturday, August 16th, (the last day for new measures to be added to the supplemental ballot on November 4th) Proposition 1A - and not Proposition 1 - would appear on the ballot. Proposition 1A's title and summary, legislative analysis and ballot arguments would be in a supplemental ballot pamphlet, and there would also be language included to alert voters.

The short version: Saturday is the new deadline. I am doubtful there'll be a budget by then. But the sooner this is over the better, because it's time to start rolling out public activism for Prop 1(A).


Tony D. said...

Only if it came down to this: Would a "Vote Yes for Prop.1/Prop.1A" bundle work? With Prop. 1A language superceeding Prop.1? Just thinking way outside the box. As for today's news making passage of the bond immensely more difficult, I believe the %56 polling in favor was with the original language. AB3034 might have put approval above %60, but without it HSR should do just fine this November. lastly, good to see voters who won't get initial service, and those in affected areas, supporting HSR...we need more of you!

Brandon in California said...

Given the risk of Schwarzenegger not signing the bill and using it as a prop to cite the legislature as not being focused and prod them into action on the budget....
....I feel Karen Bass made a wise deciscion.

I'd rather see AB3034 inacted, but the risk was too great for a conflict.

Robert Cruickshank said...

That's an interesting idea, tony. "Vote for them both!" would work for me, but you'll see conflicting messages from various groups - the Sierra Club, for example, would be saying "No on 1/Yes on 1A" which is itself confusing.

In any campaign, but especially ballot measures, simplicity is key. Find a core message and hammer it home. Having to deal with two ballot props undermines that. Perhaps not fatally, but it's better to have one than two.

The irony is I strongly doubt that Prop 1(A)'s fate is going to hinge on whether AB 3034 passes and I don't think most voters know enough to have their opinions swayed by the rather technical differences between the two. AB 3034's value is it would make the HSR coalition bigger, and if it helps get someone like the Sierra Club on board without jeopardizing the project, well, so much the better.

I think the world of Speaker Karen Bass, and I agree that this is a sensible decision - especially if all sides agree that resolving this in a way that gives voters in November clarity is key.

Plus the quote from Arnold's spokesman was pretty damn good - our activism might just have paid off there.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, just maybe the votes aren't there to pass AB-3034 in the Assembly.

The Senate made a lot of changes, some of which really riled up the republicans.

All may not be what it appears.

Anonymous said...

Most likely it did not pass because the provisions in AB3034 were far too trivial to bother with.

The hand-picked technical advisory committee won't have any real power to provide fiscal oversight. And while the prohibition against a Los Banos station was a nice gesture, everyone knows that this will be removed once develop pressures build up.

Anonymous said...


You make good points here.

I wonder if we will see the promised business plan? Without peer review by a "real" panel, it won't mean much anyway.

Morshed says 42-45 billion to build the project and I presume the business plan, if it is produced, will say the same. The ridiculous ridership numbers generated by "Cambridge" are a classic case of "garbage in garbage out" in computer language.

The project is a pig; it should be slaughtered right now.

Rafael said...

Well folks, this is what happens when your constitution is so messed up you need a supermajority for even basic legislative tasks like budgets. Almost everywhere else in the democratic world, simple majorities are enough for just about everything except constitutional changes.

Representative democracy is the least bad form of government only if elected officials actually have a chance to formulate a coherent package of policies, enact them into law and be held to account at the next general election. This isn't the 18th century - a modern economy needs technocrats with specialized subject matter expertise, not a bunch of generalists with gerrymandered constituencies.

A referendum on a major long-term project like HSR is ok, but such single-issue questions should be the exception rather than the rule. As it is, some 80% of the state's discretionary spending is allocated through propositions yet the Assembly, Senate and Governor are still responsible for the budget as a whole. Common sense should tell you that's a recipe for chronic problems.

This blog is focused on HSR, but recent events have highlighted why California has fallen so far behind on essential public works efforts. Remember, the constitution is really just the infrastructure for making regular laws and, it has more potholes than all the highways put together. At some point, muddling through will no longer be an option.

Anonymous said...


I agree with much of your comments regarding the State constitution and super majorities.

However, the rules in the US senate really mirror these same problems.

So the US Senate needs 60 votes of 100 to close off debate, which is really the same kind of added power given to the minority parties.

What's is so out of whack here in California right now, is a Governor, who claims to be a Republican, but acts many times, if not most times acts like a Democrat.

Here the Republicans have realized what a lousy project this has evolved into, yet the Governor seems, at least right now, to support it. Insiders at the Capitol just shake their heads (on both sides of the political spectrum), and say he just doesn't understand what is really going on; he listens to advisers like David Crane, who comes from the venture/private capital world and who on this project is looking for a vehicle for his friends in that world to make a killing.

Why in the world doesn't the CHSRA board have real railroad people, rather than spouses of State senators etc.

The project is headed to defeat. Poor Robert will forever be preaching the "state can't afford to not build this HSR"

Matthew Melzer said...

Click here for another article with a pro-AB 3034 quote from a Sierra Club spokesman (and lawsuit saber-rattling from Stuart Flashman).

Anonymous said...

Harry ..are you from Menlo Park?

Anonymous said...

Almost everywhere else in the democratic world, simple majorities are enough for just about everything except constitutional changes.

Not true. Just ask the Italians. Or the Germans. Or the Swiss.

This isn't the 18th century - a modern economy needs technocrats with specialized subject matter expertise

Well, our railroads are very much 19th-century!

But seriously...California technocrats really aren't in the same league as their Swiss/Norweigan/German counterparts in the area of passenger rail. This is actually not that much of an issue because outside help can be hired (case in point: the Argentine, Turk, Korean, and Chinese HSR projects).

Rather, the big problem is the politicization of the CHSRA -- much like Bush's DOJ and CIA. So you have politicians saying "all trains have to stop in San Jose", and the engineering staff have to say "ok", even though it might add $10B to the cost and have no conceivable benefit.

A referendum on a major long-term project like HSR is ok, but such single-issue questions should be the exception rather than the rule.

A referendum is quite problematic for a big engineering project, because so much of the population in California is totally illiterate in the areas of engineering and mathematics. Note how even on this blog, many (including the main author) would dismiss $10-$20B cost escalations as no big deal -- an amount of money sufficient to build an entire new BART system.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Do you have any evidence, bike rider, of "politicization of the CHSRA"? I am not averse to criticizing them but you need to put up or shut up. From now on posts that make those claims without hard evidence will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

Robert writes:

Robert Cruickshank said...

Do you have any evidence, bike rider, of "politicization of the CHSRA"? I am not averse to criticizing them but you need to put up or shut up. From now on posts that make those claims without hard evidence will be deleted.

The Nazi in Robert rises to the top. WOW talk about censoring. The blog will lose all its credibility.

Rafael please note.

Anonymous said...

Where do you get off using language like that towards a guy who has only been excedingly tolerent towards disinformation diseminated on this blog.

Grow up, mister "I'm too chicken sh*t to even identify myself"

"Oh rafael, Robert is being mean to me make him hoo"

In the real world ( ie. not blogworld) when one makes accusations or arguments they support their position with EVIDENCE, not inuendo and slander. If YOU HAVE EVIDENCE, I for one would love to see it, it might change my possition on this.

All I've seen from you derail hacks is sour grapes. The last resort of a desperate man.

Anonymous said...

@i.c. weiner

Rafael is the only voice on this blog that has knowledge and is willing to listen as well as advocate.

Those of us who oppose this project, respect his views and have learned from them.

As far as being anonymous, most writers here try to maintain their privacy. This includes Rafael, and that is just fine.

Robert Cruickshank said...

If people are going to make accusations of misconduct or unethical behavior, those claims need to be backed up with evidence. It'd be unfair to allow such charged to be made against anybody.

I've never had a problem with the HSR deniers posting here. I find it ironic that their own site has no comments whatsoever - we have nothing to hide or fear from open dialogue here.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

I hope you will continue to be very judicious in exercising your right to delete comments on this excellent blog.

You yourself have pointed out that politics has played a part in the EIR/EIS process, which is to be expected. The whole Altamont vs. Pacheco discussion has been a tug of war between San Jose and Central Valley interests.

If anything, the process did not come up with an accurate and neutral summary of the arguments for and against each option. Consequently, it could not articulate a well-reasoned decision. This perceived lack of due process is now the basis of the lawsuit over Altamont vs. Pacheco. $40+ billion is a big chunk of change and how it is spent will benefit some more than others, so genuine due process does matter. Just going through the motions is not good enough.

Similarly, the fact that HSR critics are able to post on this blog is a key reason why the mainstream media and the sites of some politicians prefer to quote from your posts and not those of say, Refuting arguments is tedious and frustrating, but there is a payoff.

@ bikerider -

All the countries you mention do pass regular laws by simple majority, though Switzerland - like California - also relies heavily on referenda. Italy's constitution is a mess, but for different reasons.

Just because California's railroads are hopelessly antiquated does not mean the state's constitution has to be. My argument actually applied to lawmaking in general.

The reason the Western world has representative democracies is precisely that most voters lack the knowledge, skill and/or time to make an informed, well-considered decision on every single issue. That's why they delegate this task to professional politicians.

As for prop 1A, it will not be decided on engineering minutiae. Instead, the question is really if Californians want HSR along the proposed route at all. Considering that railroads persist over many decades, seeking the wisdom of the crowd on this particular issue strikes me as a smart idea.

Robert Cruickshank said...

In the five months I've been running this blog I think I've deleted one comment, and as I recall it's because it had a nasty personal attack on someone. I prefer a freewheeling discussion within *very* broad guidelines.

I agree that the process of building HSR is inherently political. How can it be otherwise? You're right that politics did play a role in the EIR/EIS decision and that's not a bad thing either.

What I want to avoid is the insinuations that I keep hearing, without any evidence, that CHSRA board members have a conflict of interest, or land holdings, or are engaging in other unethical behavior. And the key there is "without any evidence." If folks could find hard evidence then we'll surely discuss it here.

But in its absence, if folks want to beat up on the Authority go right ahead. Sometimes they deserve it. All I ask is that the criticisms refrain from making accusations that can't be supported.