CA High-Speed Rail Fail: Judge derails Gov. Brown’s choo-choo?

**Posted by Phineas

"Train wreck"
“Train wreck”

Darn Judge Michael Kenny and his concern for the law! Doesn’t he know he’s standing in the way of the future?

A Sacramento judge put the brakes on California’s plans to build a bullet train after dual rulings Monday blocked the sale of $8 billion in bonds and ordered the rail authority to rewrite its funding plans for the huge project.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that there was “no evidence in the record” to support the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s request in March to sell the bonds from Proposition 1A, a $10 billion measure approved by voters in 2008 that allowed the bullet train project to move ahead.

In a separate but related case, the judge sided with the Kings County Board of Supervisors and two homeowners who sued the rail agency, saying it had failed to detail how the project will be financed, as legally required, before seeking bond money to begin construction.

The judge’s rulings leave the future of the $68 billion project in question. The state has been trying to get the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley built using $3.24 billion in federal funds and $2.61 billion in Prop. 1A bond money. The rail authority has already signed a construction contract to build the first 29 miles of track from Madera to Fresno.

The judge rejected opponents’ calls for that contract to be rescinded.

The judge’s ruling seems a reasonable one, as he sticks to the question of CHSRA’s authority to sell bonds (1); the contract is a separate matter and, if the State can’t raise the money to pay for it, also moot.

Naturally, this ruling is going to get appealed by proponents of this boondoggle all the way to the State Supreme Court, if need be. Let’s hope they uphold Judge Kenny’s ruling; then maybe we can escape from this fiasco having wasted only $600 million.

I’m not, however, getting my hopes up. The legislature might try to rewrite the law to allow the bond sales. This would be difficult and subject to court challenges, as the original measure approving HSR was a public ballot initiative, and changing it might require another vote, something Brown opposes because the California public has turned against the project. He wouldn’t want to risk a public rejection that would definitively kill his 1930s retro-future dream. Whichever way this goes, it’s going to be a long fight.

As they say, “stay tuned!”

(1) I almost wrote “”bongs.” Fitting, seeing as this is California.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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