Special Report — Analysis by Noel Braymer – After failing in March to come up with a package for the June election, the legislature and governor with major horse trading and political arm twisting produced a 37 billion dollar set of bond issues for the November 7th election. This is down from the original 68 billion proposed in January. The plan is to use this bond money in addition to local and Federal matching funds to spend 116 billion dollars. Of this 37 billion, 10.4 goes to school construction, 4.1 billion would be used to repair river levees to prevent flooding, and 2.8 billion would build affordable housing. The largest share, 19.9 billion would go to transportation. Of this 4 billion can be used for public transportation including commuter and light rail.
California’s intercity corridor trains have been allocated 400 million under this proposal that could be used for matching funds. There is an effort to get an 80% Federal, 20% state match for rail, just as there is for highways. Of this 400 million, 125 million has been reserved for new rolling stock and locomotives to expand capacity on existing trains. The remaining 275 million has not yet been allocated, but would go towards projects that are ready to go but awaiting funding. Other bond monies can be used for projects which benefit intercity trains. This includes track improvements for commuter train lines shared by Amtrak. There is also 2 billion dollars for improving freight traffic to ports and airports as well as 1 billion to reduce air pollution. Some of this money can be used for rail projects which can benefit passenger trains. There is also 4.5 billion dollars for highway congestion relief which might also be used for grade separations.
A part of this bond package is a measure for the voters to approve to make it harder for the legislature and governor to tap gasoline tax revenues to pay for things other than transportation. In the last few years gasoline tax money has been raided to deal with “fiscal emergencies” which has cut into capital projects for rail and highways. Several rail projects have been on hold because the money was used to shore up the general fund.
There will be other bond issues on the ballot in November. As we go to press this includes 10 billion for the California High Speed Rail project. Bill AB 713 would move the High Speed Rail Bond Issue to the 2008 election and fund the California High Speed Rail Authority with 116 million dollars. Currently there is no funding for the CHSRA in next year’s budget, which would force it to shut down. There is concern the High Speed Rail Bonds would compete with the other transportation bond issues which is why it has been proposed to move it to a latter election. On May 16th RailPAC President Paul Dyson testified at the Senate Transportation Committee in favor of AB 713. President Dyson emphasized the value of incremental steps towards High Speed Rail with the first projects being those that can be shared with other rail services. He gave four examples of this: electrification of Caltrain, construction of run through tracks at LAUS, rail service extended to the Transbay Terminal and upgrading the route between Lancaster and Los Angeles. (See text of this testimony above)