Support for high-speed rail

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High-speed rail got a timely and significant vote of support from the California Democratic Party on April 29 when delegates at the state convention approved a resolution pushing the project. The measure was the top vote getter, tied at 24 with a resolution urging accountability for the errors and deception that led to the Iraq War.

Yet a last-minute move weakening part of the measure raises questions about whether the Democrats are truly willing to fight Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has called for an indefinite delay in next year's high-speed rail bond measure and proposed a budget that guts the California High-Speed Rail Authority (see "The Silver Bullet Train," 4/18/07).

The resolution praises the project as "a significant weapon against air pollution and global warming as it uses much less energy per passenger than cars and airplanes - and HSR will be even more essential if, as expected, petroleum supplies diminish in the future."

But state party leaders deleted language from the version that was submitted by San Francisco delegate Jane Morrison asking "that all California elected officials support the requested $103 million for HSR in the current state budget - and retain and support the $10 billion bond issue now scheduled for High Speed Rail in the 2008 election." Assemblymember Fiona Ma has emerged as the main legislative champion for the embattled project and helped push the resolution to the top of the legislative priority list. But she faces a big test in trying to get the money the project now needs.

Morrison told us, "We have to work to convince the legislature that we can afford it. That's the hard part, so we're not done yet."

A recent report from the Legislative Analyst's Office criticized Schwarzenegger's holding pattern as wasteful and concluded that the legislature should fully fund the project or vote to kill it. The report was titled "Time to Bite the Bullet for the Bullet Train."

There's more on high-speed rail - including a telling exchange between the Guardian and the Governor's Office - on our Politics blog, at www.sfbg.com/blogs/politics.