Voters authorized $9.95 billion for California’s high-speed rail project via ballot measure in 2008

In his State of the State address, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the state’s high-speed rail project between San Francisco and Los Angeles “would cost too much and take too long.” Newsom said he wanted a portion of the high-speed rail, from Merced and Bakersfield, to be prioritized.

The governor’s spokesperson Nathan Click later said, “The state will continue undertaking the broader project—completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the SF to LA leg—that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams.”

The high-speed rail system has been in the works since 1996 when the state government created the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to develop a plan. In 2008, CHSRA estimated that a high-speed rail system connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles would cost about $34 billion. The California State Legislature approved a bond measure, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed, to appear on the ballot in 2008. Voters approved the ballot measure 52.7 to 47.3 percent.

Known as Proposition 1A, the bond measure authorized $9 billion in general obligation bonds for the planning and construction of a high-speed rail system connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. The ballot measure also authorized an additional $950 million for commuter rail systems that provide connections to the high-speed rail’s stations. Proposition 1A required the high-speed train to move at a speed of at least 200 mph and transport passengers between San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 ⅔ hours or less.

Since 2008, the CHSRA’s annual or biennial cost estimates for the project have ranged from $34 billion to $99 billion. In 2018, CHSRA estimated the project to cost $77 billion.

The federal government provided $3.5 million to California for the high-speed rail system, including $2.6 billion in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010. The federal government required a segment of the rail system, located in the Central Valley, to be constructed by December 2022. In November 2018, state auditor Elaine Howle said, “If the Authority does not complete the construction by the federal government’s December 2022 deadline, it may need to repay $3.5 billion.”

President Donald Trump responded to Newsom’s statement on high-speed rail on Twitter, saying, “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”

Gov. Newsom responded, tweeting, “Fake news. We’re building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond. This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back. The train is leaving the station — better get on board! (Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??).”

Carl DeMaio (R), chairman of Reform California, is also looking to address the future of the high-speed rail system in California. Reform California organized the campaign behind Proposition 6 (2018), which would have overturned the fuel tax and vehicle fee increases enacted in 2017. In 2020, DeMaio and Reform California are aiming to get a citizen-initiated measure on the ballot that would terminate funding for the high-speed rail project.

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