Associated Press blows coverage of bullet-train ruling

Associated Press blows coverage of bullet-train ruling

highspeedrail-300x169Led by the Associated Press, the mainstream media coverage of the state appellate court ruling overturning two anti-bullet train trial court rulings is somewhat peculiar in that it depicts the ruling as monumental. Read the 49-page decision, and it seems procedural.

I wrote about this for the U-T San Diego:

The decision of a state appeals court vacating a November ruling by a lower court that enjoined the California High-Speed Rail Authority from spending billions in already-approved bonds was immediately hailed as a huge victory for Gov. Jerry Brown and other advocates of the state’s bullet-train project.

But in the very first paragraph of the 49-page decision, the three judges on the appeals court declared that the “scope of our decision is quite narrow.” Their ruling said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny had acted prematurely in invoking the protections included in Proposition 1A — the 2008 initiative providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the bullet train project — because his ruling was based on a preliminary business plan from the rail authority, not a finalized plan that can only take effect with the approval of the Legislature and other parties. …

Court affirms legal flaws of state’s plan

And what’s absolutely crucial about the appellate ruling is that it affirmed Kenny’s key findings.

The decision did not say Kenny was wrong to declare the rail authority had a financing plan that was deficient because it had failed to identify the $26 billion in funding it needed to complete the project’s 300-mile initial operating segment, as required by Proposition 1A. Instead, the judges agreed that voters ordered a “financial straitjacket” be put on the state to ensure the project’s “financial viability.” …

Nor did the decision say Kenny was wrong to declare the rail authority had inadequate environmental reviews for the 300-mile initial operating segment. Instead, it affirmed that the state must have “all the requisite environmental clearances before construction begins.” Once again, it only held that Kerry had acted prematurely by enjoining bond spending based on this requirement at this stage of the project.

If the state’s media hasn’t figured this out, it appears the rail authority has. It hardly went on a victory lap, contrary to authority board chair Dan Richard’s normal tendency to bluster and bully.

Associated Press: Two huge basic errors

I remain absolutely baffled by how the Associated Press’ Juliet Williams could get such basic facts wrong in her account.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A state appellate court on Thursday overturned two lower court rulings that had stalled funding for California’s $68 billion bullet train, handing a big win to the project and allowing the state to resume selling bonds to pay for it.

The court overturned rulings by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny last year in which he said the high-speed rail project no longer complies with the promises made to voters when they approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for it in 2008.

The ruling didn’t say the state could “resume selling bonds” at all. Instead, the opinion said …

“… bond funds cannot be committed and spent until the second and final funding plan is approved by the authority and submitted to the director of the Department of Finance and the Chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, and an independent financial consultant prepares a report. This latter report is particularly significant in that the independent consultant must certify that construction can be completed as proposed and is suitable for high-speed rail [and that] the planned passenger train service will not require an operating subsidy.”

Nor did the appeals court say Kenny was wrong to hold the “project no longer complies with the promises made to voters.”

As noted above, the appeals court didn’t challenge his finding of deficiencies at all.

These aren’t trivial errors. AP owes its readers and clients a correction. Or corrections.


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