Thursday, March 31, 2011

The High Stakes, High-Speed Rail Game in the Central Valley of California. Are you in or out?

High-speed rail. The Democrats want it; the Republicans don't. As decision time approaches, this difference between them will become even more pronounced.

The lobbying for the funding among the Democrats has approached high stakes bluffing. The Republicans have dug their heels in.  

It's quite unfortunate that our California Republican caucus on the one hand oppose HSR for many reasons, among them the wasteful spending, but at the same time seeks those same funds to build additional highway lanes.  This may not be the best time to be so ambiguous about deficit reduction.  

If severe budget cutting is called for, then let's at it.  That also goes for the other Refusenik Republican Governor states that first turned down the federal HSR funding, but are now coming back to get those refused dollars for other purposes.  If nothing else, it raises doubts and eyebrows about what at first appeared to be a principled position. 

One more example of it not being about the train, but about the money.  In the Central Valley, the Republicans have a larger foothold than elsewhere in the state, but not enough.  California is very blue and the Republicans are a small minority. However, in Washington, the Republicans gained the House and increased their Senate membership. That gives them a seat at the table.

Washington is where the action will be.  Apparently, the California Republicans and Democrats from the Central Valley have taken their fight to the floor of the House of Representatives.

You can be sure that the decision over the $2.43 billion that Florida rejected will be made totally on political grounds and all that "merit" and which rail project deserves what is mere charade.  Although the rail authority, playing the Washington poker game, bid for the entire amount, they know that they won't get it.  They are hopeful for a piece of the action. But, there are other players in this game now; the entire northeast corridor Democratic Senate delegation. That's around a dozen Senators.

Put on your green eyeshade and sleeve garters and watch closely as the cards are shuffled.

Valley Republicans spurn effort to obtain high-speed rail funds

Posted at 04:28 PM on Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011
By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- San Joaquin Valley lawmakers are more split than ever over a proposed high-speed rail line whose initial route is now envisioned connecting Bakersfield to Merced.

This week, the Valley's Democrats formally urged the Transportation Department to provide California more money for the expanded high-speed rail project. Valley Republicans, though, did not join the effort.

The partisan divide reopened when Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, approached Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, on the House floor Tuesday. He wanted to know whether they would join in a letter asking for an additional share of the federal high-speed rail money.

"I went to them all," Cardoza said Thursday. "They declined." The political disunity, Cardoza added, could undermine California's bid for more money.

"If you have a unified delegation, then you have a lobbying team ... and that encourages the president to invest in those communities," Cardoza said.

The refusal of Republicans to sign the letter was not a surprise. Although Nunes and McCarthy joined other House members in voicing support for California's high-speed rail program in 2007, more recently they have questioned the wisdom and cost-effectiveness of the state's high-speed rail plan.

On Thursday, Nunes called the state's high-speed rail program "a boondoggle. The more time we spend on this fairy tale, the longer people will be out of work." Nunes said that while high-speed rail makes sense "conceptually," he would rather see limited transportation dollars spent on upgrading Highway 99.

Denham considers it "irresponsible to continue to throw money at a project that does not have a concrete, disciplined plan that explains how the system will run and be paid for," Denham's spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said in an e-mail.

California's plans call for an initial 123-mile route connecting Fresno to Bakersfield. With additional money, this initial route would extend to Merced, and perhaps beyond.

Six Democrats ended up signing this week's two-page letter to the heads of the Transportation Department and Federal Railroad Administration. It urges the Obama administration officials to "give full and fair consideration" to California's request for additional high-speed rail funding.

"We believe it is essential that the Merced-Fresno section be included in the initial construction phase of the system," the House Democrats wrote.

The disagreement over the letter is not the first time the Valley lawmakers have revealed their high-speed rail differences. It does, however, come at a politically sensitive time.

Last month, Florida's Republican governor rejected the Obama administration's offer of $2.43 billion in high-speed rail funds. The Transportation Department has now given other states and regions until April 4 to apply for the money Florida didn't want.

On Wednesday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously voted to apply for the entire $2.43 billion. Although it appears unlikely any one state will receive all of the money, California has received big shares in the past.