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Southern California politician wants constitutional amendment to kill high-speed rail

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Carl DeMaio is set to start collecting signatures for 2020

State Environmental Laws Threaten To Slow CA High Speed Rail Project
Rail construction near Fresno.
Photo by California High-Speed Rail Authority via Getty Images

Carl DeMaio, the same Republican former San Diego council member/radio host who unsuccessfully attempted to crash the state’s gas tax in the November election, now hopes voters will back him in a different transit maneuver: A proposed 2020 amendment to the California Constitution that would wreck the state’s high-speed rail plans.

The California Secretary of State’s office announced last week that signature gathering will soon begin on the proposed amendment. DeMaio’s plan would introduce several radical changes to statewide transit systems:

  • “Shifts responsibility for constructing and maintaining state highways from the state to local governments.”
  • “Allocates revenues from state motor vehicle fuel taxes to local governments for road construction and repair by private, non-governmental entities.”
  • “Terminates funding for state’s high-speed rail project.”

According to the state secretary, “DeMaio must collect signatures of 585,407 registered voters (eight percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the November 2014 general election) in order to qualify it for the ballot” and has until May 28 to turn them in.

DeMaio, who has railed against the bullet train plan for years, announced the new initiative in September, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wants to take transit out of state hands to emphasize “local needs.”

Californians approved the high-speed rail project—which, if all goes to plan, will someday connect Sacramento to San Diego via 800 miles of track and span San Francisco to LA in less than three hours—in 2008.

But costs have ballooned since then, from an initial $40 billion estimate a decade ago to more than $77 billion earlier this year.

Despite the overruns, polling earlier this year indicated that 53 percent of Californians support the project, essentially the same margin as the number of voters who passed the rail plan a decade ago.

If DeMaio succeeds in getting his proposal on the 2020 ballot, it will need a simple majority of the vote to pass.