Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed financial oversight provisions sought by the state Legislature for the proposed $43 billion state high-speed rail system, saying they might unnecessarily delay work on the project.
The Legislature had included the oversight section in the $87.5 billion budget passed Oct. 8 in response to state reviews that, among other issues, called ridership estimates unreliable and harshly criticized the program’s overall manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff, for paying millions of dollars to subcontractors without invoices.
In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the Legislature’s oversight requirements could “jeopardize the Authority’s ability to meet already tight federal deadlines and result in increased state costs.”
California High-Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Roelof van Ark issued a statement today, saying “the Authority is committed to transparency and accountability” and would send its own report to the Legislature.
But that could mean project manager Parsons Brinckerhoff would write a report about itself. A prospect that riles critics of the Rail Authority.
“To call the [High Speed Rail] Authority ‘tone deaf’ would be to understate the case,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, which had added the oversight requirements to the budget bill.
“It’s not at all clear to me they [High Speed Rail officials] understand how fragile the relationship is with the Legislature at this point,” added Simitian, D-Palo Alto. “I think the High Speed Rail Authority is perilously close to letting this opportunity [to build the train system] slip through its fingers.”
Simitian and other lawmakers repeatedly have said the massive train system, which initially is supposed to carry passengers from Anaheim to San Francisco at speeds reaching 220 mph must be “done right” and not become a burden on taxpayers.
The 2008 ballot proposition approved by voters that gave the project its first $9 billion specifically prohibits state money from being used to operate the system after it is completed in 2035.
But critics fear decisions being made now will result in a system that will either be subsidized by taxpayers or sit idle.
The oversight provisions inserted into the budget bill by Simitian’s subcommittee required a report to the Legislature by Feb. 1 that analyses whether the train system in fact can be run without a state subsidy.
It also called for a financial plan that includes reliable ridership projections, a detailed account of the Rail Authority’s outreach effort and a report on how it plans to address management deficiencies.
— TRACY WOOD