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House votes to cut off money for high-speed rail

Rep. Jeff Denham’s amendment to would cut off federal funding for California’s high-speed rail project was approved by the House on Tuesday.

Denham introduced H.R. 3893, the Responsible Rail and Deterring Deficiency Act, in January with support from all California House Republicans. The House passed it Tuesday as an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, H.R. 4745.

“Without a viable funding plan like the one voters supported, California’s high speed rail project is going nowhere fast,” Denham, R-Modesto, said in a news release. “I’m pleased to have the support of so many of my House colleagues who recognize that we shouldn’t be spending any more taxpayer money on a project without a future.”

The roll call was 227-186. Among the six Democrats who voted for it were four Californians who face tough fights to keep their seats this November: Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova; Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks; Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Springs; and Scott Peters, D-San Diego.

Here’s what Denham said about it on the floor:

But before you get too excited: This has happened before. Denham offered the same amendment to the same THUD (!) appropriations bill in June 2012, and that one passed on a 239-185 vote; all California Democrats (and all but four House Democrats) had voted against it.

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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.

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Neel Kashkari’s ‘That’s It’ isn’t quite it

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari released a new video today about the state’s unfunded public pension liability and other fiscal obligations:

Kashkari’s offhand assertion that Prop. 30’s tax revenues haven’t benefited schools is mystifying, in the presence of so much evidence to the contrary.

Neel Kashkari - That's ItBut I’m just as curious about his overall campaign messaging. Remember, this is the guy whose campaign slogan is “Jobs and Education. That’s It.” Yet he continues to address topics such as this, and high-speed rail (or, the “Crazy Train,” as he calls it), and more – even though he hasn’t yet released the detailed jobs plan he says he’s been working on for more than a year.

That’s OK – he certainly should be addressing all sorts of issues, the more the better; a campaign as important as this deserves it. Perhaps he’d argue that high-speed rail and public pension liabilities are related to jobs and education, but one could probably say that about almost anything, rendering the campaign’s slogan mostly meaningless.

When you start with a “That’s It” slogan and then don’t stick to it, people might wonder. I’m not saying Kashkari is a “Jerk” – far from it – but his insistence on a focus he’s not quite maintaining makes me think of this:

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Neel Kashkari wants ‘Crazy Train’ derailed

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari launched a “Crazy Train” online petition and video today taking aim at Gov. Jerry Brown’s unwavering support of the high-speed rail project to connect the Bay Area with Los Angeles.

With California ranking among states with the highest unemployment and poverty rates, the rail project is evidence of Brown’s misplaced priorities, Kashkari contends – one of the clearest differences so far between him and the Democratic incumbent.

I’m guessing they couldn’t buy the rights for this:

http://youtu.be/3MLp7YNTznE

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House members battle over high-speed rail

California House members battled over the future of the state’s high-speed rail project at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, chair of the state’s democratic House delegation, had to say in favor of the project:

And here’s what House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in opposition:

My colleague, Jessica Calefati, wrote a great story last week about how this battle is playing out on the ground in the Central Valley – check it out.

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CA House freshman on CREW’s ‘most corrupt’ list

A California freshman has been named one of Congress’ most corrupt members of 2013 by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

CREW’s list of the dirtiest 13 included four Democrats and nine Republicans including Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford; another two from each side of the aisle made the “dishonorable mention” list. Valadao was the only Californian called out, accused by CREW of abused his position on the House Appropriations Committee to benefit his own financial interests.

“Congressman Valadao has only been in Washington a few months, but it didn’t take long for him to abuse his position for his personal financial benefit,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. “Americans expect their elected representatives will look out for their constituents’ interests. Rep. Valadao, on the other hand, apparently believes the purpose of his office is to look out solely for his own interests.”

David ValadaoValadao’s office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling this “nothing more than a misleading political attack.”

“Congressman Valadao has been opposed to High Speed Rail since entering public life. He campaigned, and was elected, on fighting High Speed Rail. This project is bad for the 21stCongressional District, the Central Valley, and California,” the statement said. “Congressman Valadao will continue to fight the High Speed Rail on behalf of his constituents.”

Valadao’s family operates Valadao Dairy, which owns hundreds of acres of land along the proposed path of California’s high-speed rail project, many opponents of which argue it will reduce their property values. Valadao in June successfully offered an amendment to the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for 2014, which would require that the federal Surface Transportation Board approve the high-speed rail project in its entirety rather than letting it incrementally approve the construction of new segments.

But CREW says as Valadao offered his amendment and twice argued for its adoption, he never told his fellow lawmakers about his financial interest in its passage. House rules say members can’t sponsor legislation, advocate or take part in a committee proceeding when their financial interests are at issue.

“Rep. Valadao seems to have skipped the ethics portion of new member orientation,” Sloan said. “Using his position to advance his personal financial interests is a serious infraction, not a freshman faux pas. In July, CREW asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate. We look forward to the results.”