House votes to strip California's high-speed rail money

The plan for California high-speed rail is facing problems in Congress.
The plan for California high-speed rail is facing problems in Congress.
California High Speed Rail Authority

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The House of Representatives cast a lot of votes on transportation before leaving town for the Fourth of July holiday. They approved a new two-year bill for road construction, bridge repair and transit. The measure also extends low interest student loans for one year. But the House also approved the Transportation Department’s regular budget, which at least temporarily puts the brakes on California’s high speed rail project.

The amendment from Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno forbids federal funding next year for California high-speed rail. Speaking on the House floor, Denham said the original plan was to fund the project with $9 billion in voter-approved bonds, $10 billion from the federal government and $10 billion from the private sector.

"Problem is," he said, "there is no private investor for the 10 billion, the federal government is broke with $16 trillion worth of debt and can’t come up with 10 billion and the state of California can no longer float the bonds because its credit rating is so bad." And the original price tag has more than doubled.

Democrats Jim Costa of Fresno, Zoe Lofgren of San Jose and Laura Richardson of Long Beach, co-chairs of the California High-Speed Rail Caucus, said the Denham amendment is "one more example of how thoughtless partisanship would hurt all of California" because it could also cut off rail-related grant funding for projects like track safety and system upgrades in California.

Denham’s amendment passed, 239 to 185. Lawmakers from the northeast want that money to fund their own high-speed rail project. But the amendment is likely to come to a sudden halt when it reaches the Democratically-led Senate later this summer.

It does not affect funds in the two-year transportation bill.