If Governor Jerry Brown is looking for a boost to his plan to quickly revamp the state's high speed rail proposal, he's not going to find one from the Legislature's independent researchers.
A new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office recommends lawmakers reject the governor's request to begin funding construction of the train system this year.
The LAO report cites "concerns regarding the certainty of future funding and the recent significant changes proposed for the project" as the reason for recommending a delay. This is not the first time that the analysts have voiced concerns over the details of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles train project.
And of course, there have now been multiple iterations of the proposal, with two proposals on the watch of Brown's appointees to the high speed rail authority -- one pegging the cost at $98 billion, and the most recent just two weeks ago chipping that down to $68 billion.
Tuesday's report echoes many of the concerns raised before, most notably questions about cost assessments and the viability of federal funding (even as Republicans in Congress have pretty much said they're not going to approve the cash on which the project depends).
But new in this assessment is a look at Governor Brown's recent plans to backstop those federal funds with revenue from the soon-to-be-implemented greenhouse gas reduction program. That program, part of 2006's landmark AB 32, would auction off credits for industries that emit greenhouse gases (GHG). The auction of so-called "cap and trade" credits could generate $1 billion or more, and Brown and his advisers believe the money could be used for high-speed rail... which, they argue, is an obvious way to reduce GHG emissions when folks do less driving and flying.
The LAO report, however, raises serious questions about whether that's an allowable use of the money.
"While the high-speed rail project could eventually help reduce GHG emissions somewhat in the very long run," says the report, "given the project's timeline, it would not help achieve AB 32's primary goal of reducing GHG emissions by 2020."
The new report is going to likely revive Capitol speculation that the project could likely fail to pass muster in both houses of the Legislature this summer. And federal dollars already committed to starting construction in the Central Valley appear to hinge, at least in part, on legislative action in 2012.