Bill could put bul­let train funds at risk

House ap­proves mea­sure ban­ning state from de­lay­ing match­ing money.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Ralph Vartabe­dian ralph.vartabe­dian@la­times.com

One of the fi­nan­cial life­lines of Cal­i­for­nia’s bul­let train project has been $3.2 bil­lion in fed­eral grants. But a pro­vi­sion in­cluded in a key trans­porta­tion fund­ing bill passed by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Tues­day could place a road­block on fu­ture fed­eral pay­outs.

An amend­ment backed by Rep. Jeff Den­ham (R-Tur­lock), chair­man of the House rail sub­com­mit­tee, would ban a 2012 agree­ment be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that al­lowed the rail project to tap fed­eral grant funds with­out im­me­di­ately pro­vid­ing re­quired state match­ing money.

Den­ham said in an in­ter­view that the agree­ment un­der­mined fed­eral pol­icy and Cal­i­for­nia state law.

“The project is sev­eral decades be­hind sched­ule,” said Den­ham, a long­time op­po­nent of the project. “No longer will they be able to ac­cept a ham­burger to­day for pay­ment on Tues­day.”

The amend­ment was part of the Trans­porta­tion, Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill, ap­proved by the GOP-con­trolled House on Tues­day. If the Repub­li­can-led Se­nate goes along, a pres­i­den­tial veto of the en­tire spend­ing bill would be needed to stop the leg­is­la­tion. The Obama ad- min­is­tra­tion has strongly backed the high-speed rail project.

State high-speed rail author­ity of­fi­cials dis­missed the im­por­tance of the amend­ment.

“This amend­ment would have no ma­te­rial im­pact on Cal­i­for­nia’s high-speed rail pro­gram, even in the un­likely event that it is en­acted. Sim­i­lar ef­forts by Chair­man Den­ham and oth­ers have al­ready been re­buffed sev­eral times,” said the rail agency’s board chair­man, Dan Richard.

At is­sue is a 2012 mod­i­fi­ca­tion to an agree­ment be­tween the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity.

The deal al­lowed the rail project to con­tinue drawing on fed­eral funds when a law­suit by project op­po­nents stalled voter-ap­proved bonds for the project.

The agree­ment al­lowed the state to post­pone its pay­ment of re­quired match­ing money. So far, the state has re­ceived $503 mil­lion in fed­eral grant funds, but it has matched only $304 mil­lion of that. If the Den­ham-backed pro­posal be­comes law, the state po­ten­tially would have to make up the $200-mil­lion dif­fer­ence.

Un­der the Den­ham leg­is­la­tion, the con­tin­u­ing match re­quire­ments could grow sig­nif­i­cantly in the com­ing bud­get year, when con­struc­tion spend­ing is sup­posed to in­crease to $2.2 bil­lion, po­ten­tially ex­ceed­ing what the state could match.

The state can tap green­house gas fees paid by busi­nesses, which are ex­pected to gen­er­ate an es­ti­mated $500 mil­lion for the project next year.

The other po­ten­tial source of money is rev­enue from $9 bil­lion in bond sales ap­proved by vot­ers in 2008, although use of that fund­ing re­mains the sub­ject of legal chal­lenges.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

SHAN­NON McGIN­NIS protests route of bul­let train, which is re­ceiv­ing $3.2 bil­lion in fed­eral grants.

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