Democrats managed to secure the needed 21 votes to fund initial construction of the high-speed train, a project that has generated heaps of criticism given its cost ($68 billion) and questionable need - not to mention the state's precarious fiscal condition. The Assembly passed the measure on Thursday, but without Senate approval the proposal would have been on shaky ground. Four Senate Democrats voted against the plan. The preliminary funding will cover the project's first stretch from, er, Madera to Bakersfield. From the Sacramento Bee:
The bill approved by the Senate authorizes $5.8 billion to start construction in the Central Valley, including $2.6 billion in rail bond funds and $3.2 billion from the federal government. Lawmakers tied that funding to nearly $2 billion to improve regional rail systems and connect them to high-speed rail. That regional money was considered necessary to lobby hesitant senators about the project's potential significance to their districts. "Members, this is a big vote," Steinberg said as he opened floor debate on the bill this afternoon. "In the era of term limits, how many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?"
Passage comes on the same day that President Obama signed into law a transportation bill that will allow the MTA to borrow money from the federal government for rail, highway and other transit projects. Mayor Villaraigosa insists that the loan program ensures that an extension of the subway system will take 10 years instead of 30. But there's skimpy evidence that such a feat is possible. In fact, transit-related pubic works projects are notoriously late and over-budget. No matter - the 30-10 concept is catchy and besides, Villaraigosa won't be around if the project runs into trouble. By the way, the mayor was at the signing ceremony. Woo-woo.