California bills finalize transit questions on ballots

| 9/2/2008

Relenting on a vow to veto any bill that reached his desk before lawmakers approved a state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law Aug. 26 that revises a transit initiative to be included on the November ballot. Another transportation initiative awaits his consideration.

With the clock winding down on the regular session that wrapped up Aug. 31, Schwarzenegger approved changes to a nearly $10 billion bond proposal intended to help reduce congestion. The bonding would be used to help pay for a $42 billion transit system that will enable a 200 mph “bullet train” that could go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about two and one-half hours.

If approved by voters on the statewide ballot, the construction on the 800-mile track could begin as early as 2011. The bond initiative is Proposition 1.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, the measure – AB3034 – will ask voters whether to approve $9.95 billion in government bonds to help foot the cost for the high-speed rail service.

The final version directs more funds to be used for a route that stretches to Anaheim from San Francisco. Previously, it emphasized a route that ended in Los Angeles.

Advocates say the high-speed train would significantly reduce pollution because nearly half of all pollution comes from motor vehicles. They also say that it would reduce the number of people driving by nearly 93 million drivers a year.

“High-speed rail is the best environmental alternative to help solve our state’s growing gridlock,” Galgiani said in a written statement.

Opponents say the project is a money drain on an already over-budgeted system. They cite the more than $40 billion price tag to complete the rail line to eventually connect San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego.

An alternative is to funnel as much as $120 billion to expand airports and highways, critics say.

Another bill that advanced to the governor – AB2321 – would allow a proposed half-cent increase in the sales tax to go before voters in Los Angeles County as Measure R. The money from increasing the county’s sales tax from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent would be used to fund mass transit and road projects.

The proposed tax is expected to raise about $40 billion during the next 30 years. Two-thirds majority would be needed to authorize expansion of bus and rail, as well as a route linking downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, highway improvements, and local transportation needs.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor