SACRAMENTO, CA - High speed rail supporters got largely what they expected Thursday at the state Capitol: ratification of an initial $8 billion in project spending by the Assembly.
But the proposal's fate in the state Senate is less clear, and it may not have been helped by the results of a new statewide public poll.
By a vote of 51-27, the Assembly approved the initial appropriation of high-speed rail bonds from 2008's Proposition 1A. The lower house also authorized the spending of initial federal funds on the project.
"I commend the Assembly for supporting billions of dollars in job-creating rail infrastructure investment in Los Angeles, the Central Valley and the Bay Area," said Gov. Jerry Brown in a written statement.
The Assembly debate was, for the most part, predictable. Democrats extolled the virtues of thinking big that they say the $68 billion statewide rail system embodies; Republicans also focused on something big -- the price tag -- and said the state will take a huge risk, given the full funding hasn't been identified.
Senate Democrats met privately Monday afternoon to discuss the proposal, and a number of them continue to express concern over the scope and direction of the train system... even after the legislation was crafted to include hundreds of millions of dollars in urban rail improvements that would be needed to blend those systems with a bullet train.
"This is the largest project in the history of this state and the history of the United States," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. "And it's 90% underfunded."
DeSaulnier is one of several Democrats who have signaled they'll vote against the proposal on Friday. But if they do, the governor's point man on the project says that may be the end of the line.
"If the Legislature doesn't move forward with the project this week," said high speed rail authority chairman Dan Richard, "then the [U.S.] secretary of transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the [initial federal] money from California."
And the votes are coming just as a new statewide Field Poll finds that some 21 percent of those who say they now support Gov. Brown's November tax increase would consider changing their support if the Legislature approves the train funding.
Those are high stakes, indeed.