Tag Archive for California High-Speed Rail: One-Way Ticket to Debt

My Public Comments on Bond Finance for California High-Speed Rail Entered into Record for Pivotal Bond Validation Lawsuit

My March 15, 2013 written comments to the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee outlining several concerns about its plans for bond financing were the ONLY written comments submitted to the committee before its March 18, 2013 meeting, at which it authorized borrowing more than $8 billion for California High-Speed Rail through bond sales (a requirement under Proposition 1A).

In addition, I was one of four people to speak in person at the March 18, 2013 California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee meeting at which committee members voted to authorize the bond sales.

My written and oral comments to the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee have been entered into the record for the validation lawsuit (High Speed Rail Authority et al. v. All Persons Interested et al. – Case No. 2013-00140689) filed on March 19, 2013 in Sacramento County Superior Court concerning the legal validity of the bond sales. My comments help to boost the case of the respondents (“All Persons Interested”) that the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee failed to fulfill its legal responsibilities under Proposition 1A before it authorized the bond sales.

My written comments are submitted to the court as Exhibit G (public comment letter to the HSPT Finance Board by Kevin Dayton, March 15 , 2013) in the August 19, 2013 declaration of Rita Wespi of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) based in Palo Alto. Her declaration states that “Based on a series of Public Records Act requests I submitted to the High-Speed Rail Authority and the High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee, it is my opinion that the Finance Committee voted to approve over eight billion dollars of state bonds with little more information than a resolution from the High Speed Rail Authority.”

The declaration goes on to state the following:

On March 25, 2013, I made a similar request of the HSPT Finance Committee for “copies of all reports, analyses and recommendations provided to the HSPT Finance Committee members.”

Mr. Mark Paxson, General Counsel for the Treasurer’s Office, replied that “other than the agendas, resolutions and minutes from the prior meeting that are due for approval, there are typically no other documents provided to Finance Committee members prior to their meetings.”

In his response, Mr. Paxson stated that, for the March 18 committee meeting, the HSPT Finance Committee received in total one public comment letter and a briefing memo from the Public Finance Division’s staff. The staff briefing memo simply reiterated the agenda.

The March 15, 2013 public comment letter requested the Finance Committee to add language to Resolutions IX and X which would a) prohibit 40-year terms of maturity, and b) prohibit the use of Capital Appreciation Bonds. The letter argued that without this language, the bond sales and resulting repayment schedule would deviate from what was described in the 2008 voter guide for Proposition 1A. To the best of my knowledge, this letter was not acknowledged or discussed by the Finance Committee.

The declaration is correct: the only indications that my public comment was received was a subsequent email dated March 20, 2013 from Timothy Aguirre in the State Treasurer’s office informing me that “The State Treasurer’s Office will be holding the High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee meeting on Friday, March 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm at STO Room 587. Please see the attached meeting agenda” and a March 25, 2013 email from a general mailbox for the State Treasurer’s Office stating “You have indicated you would like to be contacted on items relating to the High Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee. The resolutions to be taken up during the March 29th meeting have been posted to the State Treasurer’s website.  You can find the resolutions by following the web link provided below. http://www.treasurer.ca.gov/financial/meeting.asp.”

My comments in person at the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee meeting on March 18, 2013 were submitted as Exhibit A (transcript of the meeting) as part of an August 19, 2013 declaration of Kathy Hamilton of Menlo Park, who writes articles about California High-Speed Rail for the Examiner web site.

Kevin Dayton: Note: Tape was turned on a little late, missing his intro. Kevin is CEO of
Labor Issues Solutions.

“Will the bonds be sold separately or at the same time for state bonds for other purposes? What rate do you expect to sell them at? I heard the chairman say 6.25% but I’m going to guess that was probably made that number up out of his head. The bonds selling last week were between 3.5 and 3.8%, something like that. I’d like to hear more about what you think you will get out of this. How will the bonds be structured? Will we be selling capital appreciation bonds at all for this? If the lawsuit that is coming up in Kings County is lost by the High-Speed Rail Authority and you’ve sold bonds, what happens to the money? These are questions I think that regular Californian who voted for this want to know. [They want to know] a lot more about this. We need to know a lot more about this [because] it’s a lot of money for us especially when you consider the interest etc will be about $20 billion [interest on bond funds] total for the whole thing. Thank you.”

Carol Ferris breaks in: “I’d like to thank you for your comments. I would also like to say that the purpose of this is to hear public comment and certainly the committee members can then take your comment into consideration. It’s not a question and answer session at this time.”

As noted in Kathy Hamilton’s declaration about the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee, “There was no evidence presented, questions asked or witnesses called. There were no discussions that the approval of the High-Speed Rail resolution was necessary or desirable. There were no discussions at all…none of the appointed committee members were in attendance, and all were substitute representatives.”

In other words, it was a farce. My article California High-Speed Rail: One-Way Ticket to Debt in www.FlashReport.org on March 25, 2013 described my experience speaking at the March 18, 2013 meetings of the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee. Also related to this meeting are my March 15, 2013 post Message to California High-Speed Rail Authority and California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee: No 40-Year Bonds, No Capital Appreciation Bonds, What If You Lose Lawsuit? and my March 30, 2013 post Reality of Crushing Public Debt from Bond Sales Eclipses the Fantasy Vision of California High-Speed Rail.

Additional Background on Bond Validation Lawsuits

Documents filed in California High-Speed Rail Bond Validation Lawsuit – on the web site of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF)

Sacramento Judge Has a Full Plate of Rail LawsuitsFresno Bee – September 9, 2013

Legal Challenges Plague the California Rail Projectwww.Examiner.com, by Kathy Hamilton – September 8, 2013

Bullet Project Attempts Legal Maneuver to Limit Damage by Lawsuits – www.Examiner.com, by Kathy Hamilton – April 2, 2013

California’s High-Speed Rail Authority Sues Everybody, Invites You to Argue Case in CourtSan Jose Mercury-News – March 28, 2013

Reality of Crushing Public Debt from Bond Sales Eclipses the Fantasy Vision of California High-Speed Rail

Originally presented to Californians as a $45 billion statewide high-speed rail system to transport people between major metropolitan areas, the “Safe, Reliable California High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century” has been distorted by the state’s leftist ideologues and corporate and union special interests into the California High Speed Rail Scam.

My article California High-Speed Rail: One-Way Ticket to Debt in www.FlashReport.org on March 25, 2013 described my experience speaking at the March 18, 2013 meetings of the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee. I asked pivotal questions about how the State of California planned to sell the $9.95 billion in bonds authorized by 52.7% of California voters through Proposition 1A in the November 2008 election.

My questions were reported throughout the state in a March 18, 2013 Associated Press article Board Seeks $8.6 Billion in California High-Speed Rail Bonds:

Several speakers challenged the timing of the authorization during the board’s public comment period, asking why the board was acting on the bulk of the bonds approved by voters now when it could be years before the money is needed. Kevin Dayton, a public policy consultant from Roseville, questioned whether the board was rushing to beat the outcome of the lawsuits attempting to block the railroad.

“That’s the obvious question that comes up,” Dayton said. “I think it’s reasonable to assume they’re very worried about it.”

TV viewers also saw (and read) my comments in Nannette Miranda’s story Board Seeks $8.6 Billion in California High-Speed Rail Bonds for various local news programs of ABC affiliates throughout the state:

“What’s your current estimate of the total amount of debt that will be assessed including the interest on this?” high speed rail opponent Kevin Dayton asked the board.

During media interviews after the board meeting, California High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard claimed the cost of interest payments for the entire project could eventually reach $700 million per year. He also claimed that interest on the first $2.61 billion in bond sales authorized by Senate Bill 1029 (2012) would cost $175 million per year over 30 years.

As stated in this article California Bullet Train Clears One Obstacle; Land, Legalities Remain, “It all depends on Wall Street, but for estimation purposes, the state is using a 6.5 percent interest rate for 35 years.” This was the rate cited by Chairman Richard during the media interviews. According to California Municipal Bond Advisor, yields for State of California 30-year general obligation bonds were 4.80% on September 20, 2012 and 5.03% on October 19, 2012.

My Questions Reveal One Surprise: Truckers Will Pay for the Bond Interest

California High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard responded to my comments by declaring that my questions should be addressed to the California State Treasurer, Bill Lockyer. But later in the meeting, he said that the state would pay interest on the bonds NOT from the general fund, but from vehicle weight fees paid by truckers.

Fox News 11 in Los Angeles reported on this revelation with its March 28 story Money Shell Game? Potholes or High Speed Rail. I was interviewed for the story, and an excerpt from the interview appears in the segment. I am also quoted in the associated article:

Those are fees paid when trucks are too heavy. And that money is supposed to go to highway construction projects. This is typical of the entire way the rail authority operates. Things change. You don’t know what’s going on, there’s very little transparency and openness. Essentially, all they’re doing is taking the money, transferring it into another fund and pretending the general fund is not paying for it. In reality, California taxpayers are still paying the interest.

Assembly Bill 105 (2011) authorized vehicle weight fees to pay interest on bonds for transportation projects. The March 13, 2013 California Legislative Analyst’s Office Overview of Transportation Funding explains how vehicle weight fees will pay interest in 2013-14 on transportation-related bonds:

In addition to ongoing revenues from fuel taxes, the state has issued general obligation bonds in order to pay for transportation projects. The largest such bond measure was Proposition 1B (2006), which authorized the state to sell $20 billion in bonds to finance transportation projects. The Governor’s budget estimates that the debt-service costs on Proposition 1B and other outstanding transportation bonds will be about $1.1 billion in 2013-14.

Vehicle weight fees are used to pay the debt-service cost on transportation bonds rather than the General Fund. For 2013-14, the Governor’s budget uses all $946 million in weight fees to benefit the General Fund. Of this amount, $907 million is to pay debt service and $39 million is loaned to the General Fund and set aside for future debt service.

In addition, the Governor’s budget proposes to use miscellaneous revenues in the SHA to pay transportation debt service on an ongoing basis.

I asked this question in a tweet during the California High-Speed Rail Authority meeting on March 18 after the Authority chairman talked about paying interest from vehicle weight fees:

Does California Trucking Association @Caltrux know truck weight fees to pay interest Prop 1A bond sales for high-speed rail? $10 billion.

This response came on March 28 after the Fox News 11 story aired:

@DaytonPubPolicy we are well aware that the weight fees we pay to maintain roads now go to non-road projects. Trucks pay their share.

(They certainly do, and more – trucks are a favorite target of the Left in California.)

What Were the 2008 Cost Estimates for Interest Paid on the Bonds?

The official legislative analysis of Proposition 1A provided voters with an estimated cost of selling bonds with a 30-year maturity:

If the bonds are sold at an average interest rate of 5 percent, and assuming a repayment period of 30 years, the General Fund cost would be about $19.4 billion to pay off both principal ($9.95 billion) and interest ($9.5 billion). The average repayment for principal and interest would be about $647 million per year.

A July 7, 2008 Senate Appropriations Committee analysis estimated the cost of selling bonds with a 40-year maturity:

AB 3034 would extend the maximum allowable bond maturity term from 30 years to 40 years. Assuming the same interest and inflation rates, this bill could result in an increase in total General Fund costs of $3.78 billion if the term of the bonds is extended to 40 years (to a total cost of $23.2 billion). Annual debt service payments would be $580 million for 40 years.

According to Section 5.02(b)(vii) of the resolutions passed on March 18, the Treasurer is now authorized to borrow the $8.6 billion by selling bonds with a maturity period of 35 years

So does the Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget adequately account for interest to be paid after the state borrows money for California High-Speed Rail through bond sales? It depends on how the California State Treasurer intends to structure and market them.