GOP lawmakers want bullet train derailed

Assembly Republicans

California Republicans, long opposed to the $68 billion high-speed rail plan backed by Gov. Brown, say it’s time to dump the bullet train and spend money instead on critical transportation infrastructure.

“I think people are tired of the train and tired of waiting for the train,” Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway of Tulare told reporters. “They’re standing at the train stop and the train is not coming.”

Republicans said California has some $296 billion in unmet infrastructure needs, and contended their proposal would grow the state’s economy by up to $140 billion.

But before that can happen, they added, voters must first recast their votes on the high-speed rail project they approved in 2008.

Republicans are calling for nearly $11 billion in one-time funds and $2.4 billion annually for related statewide transportation projects, such as road construction, capital improvements and transit upgrades, among others. Up to $2.5 billion would be in loan repayments, and about $8 billion would materialize if voters decide they want to nix high-speed rail.

They estimate their plan over the next ten years would add between 77,000 and 108,000 jobs annually and boost the Gross State Product by $110 billion to $140 billion.

The California Transportation Commission in 2011 found that over a 10-year period the state would face about $295.7 billion worth of projects and programs that need to be funded to keep the state’s transportation infrastructure in good shape.

A problem with financing is that much of the money goes to servicing debt, rather than construction.

About “one out of every two dollars spent on infrastructure investments goes to pay interest costs — rather than for the purchase of concrete, steel, or other building materials,” notes the governor’s January infrastructure plan.

The GOP proposal is a long shot — to say the least. It would need to get through the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature and would then likely succumb to Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto.

Brown remains a consistent supporter of high-speed rail, even though it currently is a sore spot for his administration with challenges from regulators as well as the courts.

Given HSR’s low polling numbers and judicial scrutiny surrounding the project, it represents a major political target for Republicans, who argue that when voters approved the project they were being misled.

In the state Senate, a Central Valley Republican already has a bill calling for a revote of the 2008 ballot decision.

Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford has made “driving a stake through the heart” of Brown’s besieged train a major platform in his legislative agenda. He recently introduced a package of four bills targeting HSR.

Vidak’s counterparts in the lower house say they will be going forward with their own revote legislation authored by Conway, but added they support the senator’s effort.

Redirected HSR funds under the Assembly proposal would be dispersed equally between highway maintenance and construction and the remaining 20 percent toward port and freight infrastructure improvement projects, identified in the state’s freight plan.

Republicans are also proposing faster relief to California’s billion of dollars in unpaid loans taken from the gasoline sales tax.

Voters in 2002 passed Proposition 42 in order to use gas tax revenue to ease traffic congestion. Twenty percent was to be directed toward public transportation, 40 percent for improvement projects, and the remaining 40 percent divided between cities and counties for street and road improvements.

Budget shortfalls necessitated lawmakers to tap into these funds to fill other holes, leaving the state about $2.5 billion in unpaid loans, currently on track to be paid off incrementally by June 30, 2021.

Under the GOP’s infrastructure plan, any unanticipated budget revenue, minus what is required spending for education and other programs, would go toward repaying Proposition 42 loan balances.

Last year, the state saw $2.8 billion in unexpectded revenue for 2012-13. The governor’s January budget proposes repaying $340 million this year.

The other piece to the Republican’s plan: annual spending of $2.4 billion without raising taxes.

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