Bullet-train ruling: Mum’s the word from Times, Bee edit boards

Bullet-train ruling: Mum’s the word from Times, Bee edit boards

bullet.trainIsn’t the fact that the bullet train is going down worthy, yunno, of editorial comment?

Judge Michael Kenny’s Aug. 16 ruling that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had failed to meet funding and environmental standards that would allow it to legally begin construction of the project in the Central Valley has elicited little or no reaction from the two editorial boards that have been the bullet train project’s biggest backers since it got $9.95 billion in state bond funds in 2008 with the approval of Proposition 1A.

It’s the biggest news for the project in five years, and yet according to Nexis, all the Sacramento Bee could offer was this passing remark in an Aug. 18 editorial:

“A potential setback emerged Friday when a judge agreed with Kings County that the rail authority has to have financing and environmental clearances in hand for the first 290 miles – not just the first 130 miles. We think that ruling is ripe for appeal.”

Based on what? The ruling from Kenny is pretty much exactly what former judge and state Sen. Quentin Kopp predicted, and he was the key shepherd of Prop. 1A back in 2008. What specifically is “ripe for appeal”? Kenny taking seriously the taxpayer protections that helped get the bonds approved?

But at least the Bee editorial board had a reaction, however small and vague. Nexis shows the Los Angeles Times editorial board has been mum. No more juvenile “I think I can! I think I can” editorials for the time being, I guess.

State judge’s ruling should jeopardize federal funds

Meanwhile, as I wrote this week for City Journal, a state judge saying the project lacks the necessary funding for its initial operating segment creates a headache for the federal government — or it least it would if we were still a nation of laws.

“Kenny’s decision should raise some tough questions in Washington, D.C., too. The judge’s findings appear to undermine the Obama administration’s claim that the high-speed rail project remains eligible for billions in federal stimulus funds. The Department of Transportation awarded California $3.5 billion for the project, with most of the money coming from the $787 billion stimulus that Congress approved in 2009. Those stimulus funds are subject to all sorts of regulations and compliance rules. Federal regulations have a reputation for obscurity, but here they couldn’t be clearer: federal dollars may only go to state rail projects that have demonstrated a sound and viable ‘financial plan (capital and operating),’ ‘reasonableness of financial estimates,’  and ‘quality of planning process.’ Just because the federal government approved a grant doesn’t mean that it can’t cancel it later. The rules require state officials to report regularly on their progress, and the Federal Railroad Administration audits those reports. Presumably, the report for the third quarter of 2013 will note that a state superior court judge moved to block the project because it lacked the necessary financing to get started.”

obama above the lawBut the problem for this theory is that it presumes the Obama administration cares what its legal obligations are. There’s little sign of that in Washington these days.

“If all of this doesn’t lead to the loss of federal funds, then critics of the Obama White House may add a new entry to the list of laws—the Affordable Care Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and laws governing drug possession, illegal immigrants, and the disposal of nuclear waste—that the administration ignores or rewrites on the fly.”

We’ll see. But after talking to Quentin Kopp and Kings County’s lead attorney, I’m pretty sure the bullet train is getting the fate it deserves — whatever happens on the federal front.



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