This will be a make-or-break year for California’s bullet train project, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority set to release its new business plan on March 1. A state judge has ruled that until it releases a plan, the authority cannot sell $8.6 billion worth of bonds, which will ultimately be necessary to access federal matching dollars.
Gov. Jerry Brown is also requesting $250 million in carbon cap-and-trade money for the project, though he’ll see opposition to this plan from both environmentalists (who don’t think it’s the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, as required by law), Republican legislators and even some state Democrats, who oppose the rail project entirely.
Now the California Department of Finance has released a five-year infrastructure plan, which suggests that Brown will ask for a lot more: $25.6 billion in total over the next five years.
While the plan dedicates the majority of its 92 pages to projects like schools and prisons, as well as agencies like the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Agency, it’s really more of a transportation strategy. Of the total $56.7 billion, five-year ask, $53.4 billion would go to transportation, split about evenly between the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the High-Speed Rail Authority. The plan anticipates that virtually all of the authority’s money will come in fiscal year 2015-16.
Where it will come from, though, remains to be seen. We’ll know when the full, revised funding plan is released, but the infrastructure plan gives some hints. Of the total infrastructure ask, the majority — $32.3 billion — would come from the feds. Another $12.1 billion would come from the nebulously named “Special Fund,” and another $5.9 billion from “other state funds,” which includes “reimbursements and non-governmental cost funds.”
Later in the report, in one of the few sections that deal with the high-speed rail line, the plan reads:
Proposal: The Plan assumes $25.6 billion will be available from various funds including federal funds, Cap and Trade funds, Prop 1A bond funds, and other sources to help accomplish the Authority’s goals over the next five years.
The bonds and federal money could, if Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny cooperates, contribute around $12 billion to the project. Dan Richard, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that Brown’s cap-and-trade ask could rise to $500 million a year, which would make $2.5 billion over the next five years.
Assume those numbers together, and assume they will go toward the $25.6 billion, and you still come up more than $10 billion short of the total $25.6 billion five-year plan — for which the feds would presumably pick up the slack. But will Congress, which can barely agree to keep the government open, actually cough up the rest? That is the $10 billion question.
The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.