State budget mess may halt high-speed rail

Supporters of the proposed high-speed rail system that would connect the Bay Area to Southern California continue to watch the state budget drama unfold as funding questions threaten to cripple the effort.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, an 11-year-old state agency charged with planning and designing the system, requested $103 million from the state for fiscal year 2007-08, which began July 1. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered $1.2 million, saying he wants the private sector to take a more prominent role before committing more state dollars.

“That would effectively end the effort,” authority Deputy Director Dan Leavitt said Tuesday. “We would close our office. All the work we’ve done in the last 10 years would stop.”

The proposed $40 billion high-speed rail system would take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about two and a half hours for no more than $50. Supporters say the system is needed to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions, reinforce cities with stations as economic centers and accommodatethe state’s growing population. Opponents say it would never pay for itself and would be a drain on the state budget.

Most of the cities that would host stations have been selected, although the route from the Central Valley to the Bay Area is still in question. Twenty-one separate possibilities are expected to be compared in an environmental review this week.

For fiscal year 2006-07, the High-Speed Rail Authority received $14.5 million from the state — the largest appropriation it has been allocated so far.

The state Assembly and Senate have countered Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal with appropriations of at least $40 million. Leavitt doesn’t believe the private sector is going to replenish the authority’s budget if the state slashes the funding. “We want the private sector to put its money into the system, but there is no incentive to do so,” Leavitt said.

The authority is also waiting to see whether a $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure that was slated for the 2006 ballot will make it to the 2008 ballot. Schwarzenegger has proposed delaying the measure indefinitely.

arocha@examiner.com


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