California High-Speed Rail Proving to Be Key Issue for November 2014 Elections

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On June 10, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on an amendment to a transportation appropriations bill to prohibit federal funds from being used for high-speed rail in the State of California or for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It was offered by Congressman Jeff Denham (R-California), chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The amendment passed 227-186. See Congressional Record – Roll Call #288.

Six Democrats voted YES on the amendment. Four were from California. Why did they vote YES?

California’s Ten Most Vulnerable Democrat Members of Congress and Their June 10, 2014 Votes on Cutting Off Federal Funding for California High-Speed Rail

California Ten Most Vulnerable Democrat Members of Congress and California High-Speed Rail Vote

Debate on the Amendment (from the Congressional Record)


Amendment Offered by Mr. Denham

Mr. DENHAM. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

The Acting CHAIR. The Clerk will report the amendment.

The Clerk read as follows:

At the end of the bill, before the short title, insert the following:

Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for high-speed rail in the State of California or for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from California is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. DENHAM. Mr. Chairman, this is a very simple amendment. Again, it reads: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for high-speed rail in the State of California or for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.”

As chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, I am a big supporter of high-speed rail. I have seen some of the greatest high-speed rail in other countries, and here, even in the United States, we are going to see the first high-speed rail in Texas and then in Florida–two projects that are moving forward with private dollars.

Yet, in California, in 2008, we passed Proposition 1A, which was a guarantee to the voters that a $33 billion project would not only be built but would be built on time, with equal parts of funding from the State voters, from the Federal Government, hopefully, and then from the private investors. Today, 5 years later, after $3.8 billion in stimulus funds for shovel-ready projects were dedicated to this, still not one shovel is in the ground. It is a project that has been held up in court. The $9.95 billion cannot be used, and there are no private investors.

So the question is: Why should the Federal Government be putting more money into a project that is nonexistent today?

It is a project that, even by its own definition, is $32 billion short, not in the project, but in the initial operating segment, which is guaranteed to the voters to be completed. This is a project that has grown out of control. When they found out that they were in default in April, rather than fixing the problem, they committed to next year’s budget, utilizing $250 million in cap-and-trade funding.

There is a reason the judges have struck this down to this point, and there is a reason that voters wanted to have this go back before them: it is a project that has no end in sight. Again, no shovels have been put into the ground even though the Federal Government has obligated $3.8 billion–money that could be used for other priorities. Today, we are in a situation. With a $32 billion shortfall, there is no proposal from the President to fill that gap, and there is no proposal from the Governor to fill that gap. Yet there is the hope that the Federal Government will continue to find new money to throw at something that is nonexistent.

This doesn’t meet the Prop 1A guarantee. There is no State match, and the cost has more than doubled. Again, the jobs that have continued to be talked about for the last 5 years are nonexistent.

Mr. Chairman, I would urge an “aye” vote on this amendment. We have got to stop this train wreck.

I yield back the balance of my time.

{time} 1530

Ms. LOFGREN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentlewoman from California is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. LOFGREN. Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the California Democratic congressional delegation, I rise in opposition to this amendment.

This misguided amendment would prohibit additional Federal investment in California’s high-speed rail project. As we know, California is in the midst of constructing the Nation’s first truly high-speed rail system.

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The project was approved by a strong majority of California voters in 2008 because we Californians know that high-speed rail is the most effective and environmentally sustainable way to increase mobility across the State.

Now, the project is already creating jobs for Californians. In fact, more than 70 firms that have committed to performing work on this project have offices in the Central Valley, and many of these firms, happily, are veteran-owned.

In San Jose, the California high-speed rail project is already providing immediate benefits by investing $1.5 billion in the Caltrain Modernization Program. This program will create over 9,500 jobs, over 90 percent in the San Francisco Bay area.

Now, the government’s independent watchdog, the GAO, conducted an extensive audit of the project. And you know what? They gave high marks to the authority’s business plan for high-speed rail.

Members of Congress are right to conduct proper oversight of infrastructure projects across the country. However, regardless of your views on the merits of this project, I think most of us would agree that attempting to kill a single project through the appropriations process is bad public policy and sets a horrible precedent.

I would note that electrified trains are really part of the future. China already has 5,000 miles of high-speed rail, and they intend to double that. Spain has 1,600 miles of high-speed rail, and they are building more. More than a dozen other countries have their own successful high-speed rail systems. Even Morocco is building a high-speed rail system. But we don’t have anything in the United States except for what California is doing.

I would note that California is almost always on the leading edge of progress for our country. We are leading in energy conservation. We are leading in alternative energy, and we have the best public university, the University of California, in the entire United States. We always lead.

Now, it is important that the State of California has identified an ongoing source of funds to support high-speed rail, and that is the cap-and-trade funds. Is that appropriate? Yes, it is, because the cap-and-trade funds are generated through energy conservation, and the high-speed rail system is going to help move Californians in an environmentally suitable way.

It is important to be visionary here. You know, when we started building the interstate highway system, when the first mile of highway was built, we didn’t know that 50 years later we would still be identifying interstates to build.

We need to begin with high-speed rail in California. California is behind this project. The California Democratic delegation is behind this project.

I urge my colleagues to reject the amendment, put our neighbors back to work, and allow California to continue building the Nation’s first true high-speed rail project. We will all be proud of that project as it nears completion.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. LaMALFA. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from California is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. LaMALFA. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of Mr. Denham’s amendment.

High-speed rail has been a boondoggle in California pretty much since day one. The voters, when they had it presented in front of them as Prop 1A in the 2008 election, they were shown a $33 billion project that would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with a continuous high-speed rail project.

What we found out, within 3 years, was after the price went up initially $45 billion, that a true audit turned out it would be $98.5 billion. After that, the Governor real quick decided to change the project and use the connectivity of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, their local systems, to make up for it, which is illegal under Prop 1A. It has to be continuing from San Francisco to LA. You can’t use local transit systems under Prop 1A.

So now what we see is that they were able to downsize the cost to only $68 billion over what the voters, by a 52 percent, not an overwhelming margin, merely 52 percent, approved.

They were sold a bill of goods. That is why we shouldn’t spend another Federal dollar or State dollar which enables–the Federal dollars enable the State dollars to be spent. We need to stop that here until they come up with a real plan that shows the financing.

They haven’t shown the financing yet. We can identify $3 billion worth of Federal money, $9.95 billion worth of State money, approximately $13 billion for a project in the downsized illegal form that is only $68 billion, they say.

Where does the other $55 billion come from?

They have no idea. There is no private sector money. There is no more Federal money that is going to happen, other than the $3 billion that has been captured from the stimulus package of a couple of years ago.

We need to take that money and channel that into something else that we need to do desperately, such as our transportation infrastructure which we are speaking about here this week. Or in California we have a desperate need for water supply during our drought, instead of a boondoggle which is going to pave through a bunch of our ag land in California, as well as important other infrastructure.

What do we hear about it?

Oh, it is going to save CO2. It is going to be a panacea for global warming. You know, for 30 years it won’t even help toward this project of global warming. Instead, part of their plan is they are going to have to plant trees to offset the construction of high-speed rail because it is going to have a higher CO2 footprint than what we already have.

It is boondoggle after boondoggle. We talk about jobs. These aren’t real jobs. The numbers have been inflated since day one. They tried to tell us 3 years ago that it was going to cause a million new jobs for California.

When we finally pinned them down in a State committee, they said, well, that means a million job years. It turns out to be it might be 5,000, 10,000 jobs under construction, not a million jobs. It is deceit after deceit.

We need to plow this money that we have federally back into something that would help our transportation infrastructure in California or in the Nation, help build water supply, anything but this project here, which is full of deceit and empty promise after empty promise.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. PASTOR of Arizona. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PASTOR of Arizona. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment, and I yield to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lofgren).

Ms. LOFGREN. I thank the gentleman from Arizona. I just wanted to make a couple of quick points. First, it is easy to be a critic and it is hard to be a builder. The high-speed rail project is a big project, it is difficult to do, but we are going to get it done.

Sometimes I wonder, when people say don’t do high-speed rail, how they plan to deal with the millions of additional Californians that are anticipated to clog our roads and need transportation infrastructure.

It has been suggested by dispassionate engineers that we would need at least two or three additional airports in California. We would need several, as many as five, additional lanes, north-south, in the middle of California to match the capacity of high-speed rail.

How are we going to do that?

Do we think that that is not going to be expensive?

The alternative to high-speed rail is not nothing. That is impossible for a State as vibrant as California, with an economy as booming as it is, and a future as bright as we have.

I would note also that the idea that it is inappropriate to use cap-and-trade funds, I just simply disagree with. California is among the first in the Nation, I would say, and it has got wide approval in the State, to do this cap-and-trade system, to bring down carbon emissions. Funds will be generated through that project. Some of those funds will go to this very worthy project. So I disagree very much with this amendment. I don’t believe that we will be successful–my God, I hope we are not–in stopping this visionary project that is going to allow the State of California to continue to prosper and for transportation north-south needs to be met into the future.

I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from California (Mr. Denham).

The question was taken; and the Acting Chair announced that the ayes appeared to have it.

Mr. DENHAM. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

The Acting CHAIR. Pursuant to clause 6 of rule XVIII, further proceedings on the amendment offered by the gentleman from California will be postponed.

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