The vote on HSR funding: what will the Legislature be voting on and is it legal?

The legislature will be voting on an appropriation of bond funding for the high speed rail project either Thursday July 5 or on Friday.

Instead of including the monies in the general budget bill, the Legislature is using a “trailer bill” (the latest language is here). They have taken a completely unrelated bill, gutted the language and replaced it with a funding appropriation for high speed rail and various conditions on the expenditures.

The most significant thing to point out is that Prop 1A was $9 billion for high speed rail and a separate $950 million for “connectivity funds.” The language makes it clear that if ANY of the bond money for the Central Valley is not approved, then NONE of the connectivity money is available. So if the plan sinks, it takes everyone down with it.

Those of you who have been following the news probably know by now that there was a rumored Plan B floating around. (See Fresno Bee: ). The latest language seems to be BOTH Plan A and Plan B.

The rough breakdown is:

- $2.6 billion for the Central Valley (combined with $3.3 billion of federal funding)

- $0.8 billion of connectivity funds, sprinkled around the segments

- $1.1 billion of “bookends” funding

TOTAL: $4.5 billion Prop 1A + $3.3 federal = $7.8 billion.

Serious questions have been raised about whether or not the appropriations would be legal under the many requirements in the original bond measure. Two State Senators requested an opinion from the legislature’s lawyers.

CARRD has obtained a copy of the Legislative Counsel’s opinion that looks at the legality of the “blended system” and starting construction in the Central Valley.

Readers have described the 21 pages of convoluted language as “squishy”, which means that it does not come to any firm conclusions. Is it legal? It depends on the facts and on how key portions of the law are interpreted.

Three important points:

1) The conclusions rely heavily on assertions of the facts by the Authority that the Legislative Counsel cautions it cannot verify.

CARRD raised the issue of the travel time requirements of Prop 1A and Leg Counsel touched upon this issue in their opinion (starting on pg 6). The Authority is claiming the blended system can meet the 2hr 40 min requirements (even thought the LTK study done by Caltrain conflicts with that analysis) and Leg Counsel took them at their word. If that turns out to be factually inaccurate and in fact would take longer, then the proposed plan would not meet the requirements of Prop 1A.

2) Many of the projects in the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Southern California probably don’t qualify for Prop 1A bond funding. Promises to legally allocate Prop 1A money to the region may be empty ones.

3) Prop 1A required a Funding plan which the Authority certified in November 2011, but Leg Counsel confirms CARRD’s analysis that their plan does not comply with the law because the environmental work was not completed.