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Bill Would Prohibit Highway Money for Calif. Rail Plan

Tue February 28, 2012 - West Edition

WASHINGTON (AP) Congressional opponents of California’s high-speed rail proposal are working to ensure that a new highway bill won’t include more federal money for the project.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation Feb. 3 that would authorize road, bridge and other transportation projects costing an estimated $260 billion over four-and-a-half years.

Part of the bill included an amendment from Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican. The amendment prevents any of the money from being used on the state’s proposed high-speed rail system.

The amendment was approved strictly along a party-line vote with all GOP members of the committee supporting the measure and all Democratic members voting no.

California plans to build a high-speed rail system that would extend from Anaheim to San Francisco at a cost of about $98 billion.

Denham used to support the proposal but now said that rising costs and construction time projections have caused him to doubt its viability.

The highway bill essentially sends money to the states to help fund their top transportation priorities. Denham said he wants to make sure highway money is used for highways.

“This administration and the California Legislature want high-speed rail at any cost,” Denham said. “They will spend lavishly without a disciplined plan and say anything to get it done, but this amendment will prohibit highway bill money from being used on a project that is going nowhere fast.”

Despite approval at the committee level, Denham’s proposal still has a difficult path ahead before becoming law. The Senate is putting together its own highway bill, and that bill is not expected to include a similar amendment, as lawmakers are trying to keep it as bipartisan as possible.

Also, the House may not even pass the legislation. Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, and the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group, is encouraging lawmakers to vote no because it increases government spending.

Dan Richard, chairman of the board of the California High Speed Rail Authority, discounted the amendment’s threat to the project.

“This is not a surprise,” Richard said. “The high-speed rail draft business plan correctly anticipated that there would be no additional federal funds in the short term. The amendment has no effect on our current funding and we understand it for what it is.”

Democratic lawmakers in the state’s delegation also are concerned about a provision of the bill that calls for opening oil and gas drilling along the East and West Coast, and using the proceeds to help pay for the bill’s transportation programs.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps said people in her Central Coast congressional district are overwhelmingly opposed to drilling.

“Everyone knows that mandating new offshore drilling won’t bring in much money, and it will only endanger our coastal economy and environment,” Capps said.

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