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CA11: Parsing Mark DeSaulnier on high-speed rail

Lupe Schoenberger from Mark DeSaulnier’s congressional campaign called this morning to dispute my story’s assertion that DeSaulnier wants to cut off federal funding for high-speed rail.

She said he supports such funding but he believes the project needs to be radically reworked so that it starts in densely populated areas with rider safety upgrades and track improvements and then spreads into the Central Valley, rather than vice versa.

Here’s video and a transcript of what DeSaulnier said when asked at our editorial board meeting a few weeks ago whether he supports federal funding for California’s high-speed rail, starting at approximately 38:35:

“No, not as it’s currently construed. As you know I was one of four Democrats who voted against authorizing our bond moneys to match the federal funds. As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, I’ve been very involved in this, I’m currently meeting with the plaintiffs in the state lawsuit, I’ve tried to engage the governor and the administration to see if we can fix what is very seriously broken.

“It’s a huge boondoggle, in my view; it’s going to suck the air out of the state budget. I’ve met, I’ve been in multiple meetings with Secretary LaHood leading up to this, and Secretary Lahood – the ranking person, the Secretary of Transportation during most of the Obama Administration – told me that they were going to come up with a third of the money for the overall program which is now $68 billion, but we’ve been told by experts it will probably be two to three times that. The federal government doesn’t have the funding for it. Representative Denham, a former colleague of mine in the senate, a Republican, has moved to take the money back – we’re in danger of having to pay money back for an isolated facility that will never give real function to the state of California.

“So I’m very engaged in it, I believe in a world-class passenger rail system over the next 30 to 50 years in California, but we’re doing it the exact opposite of every other industrialized country. Japan has the best model, I’ve talked with them…”

It seems clear that DeSaulnier does oppose federal funding for this high-speed rail project, the one California is actually implementing, though he might support such funding for some other version that he agrees with.

DeSaulnier in 2012 advocated an alternate high-speed rail plan that focused first on big commuter rail upgrades in greater Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but the Legislature rejected it as experts said adopting such a plan probably would lead to the federal government diverting its funding to other states. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had to use significant muscle to get enough votes to win final approval for the existing plan after DeSaulnier and a few other Democrats vowed to oppose it.

DeSaulnier said in February 2013 that he was “still looking for Plan B” on high-speed rail, and he and other senators also questioned whether the state could build the bullet train without neglecting other, badly needed transportation work, such as highway reconstruction.

Other candidates seeking to succeed Rep. George Miller in the 11th Congressional District are Democrats Tony Daysog, Ki Ingersol and Cheryl Sudduth; Republican Tue Phan; and independent Jason Ramey.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Whatever Marky Mark said was right when he said it, even if he is contradicting himself, for he is the anointed one and can do no wrong.