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Proposed ballot measure would kill California high-speed rail

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Gas tax repeal backers get early start on 2020 ballot

State Environmental Laws Threaten To Slow CA High Speed Rail Project
High speed rail construction in Fresno in 2017.
Photo by California High-Speed Rail Authority via Getty Images

On Tuesday, backers of Proposition 6, the upcoming November ballot measure that would do away with the state’s 2017 gas tax, proposed a further initiative for 2020 that would change the way California funds transit and also includes a provision that would bring the state’s high-speed rail project to a screeching halt.

Yes, we’re already talking about the 2020 election, more than a month before voters settle affairs here in 2018.

A letter sent Tuesday to the California Attorney General’s Office and reproduced on the site lists the proponent Carl DeMaio, the same former San Diego City Council rep who put up Proposition 6.

As CBS SF points out, the 2020 plan appears to be a response to anti-Prop 6 campaign points arguing that the initiative does away with the gas tax without replacing the $4.9 billion annually it’s expected to raise by 2021 for transit costs.

Under the “lockbox” plan, the state would be forced to divert a certain portion of existing funds toward those costs instead.

But the really meaty part of DeMaio’s new pitch is tucked in toward the end:

The Governor and Legislature shall terminate any funding for the project known as California High-Speed Rail. [...] The state government shall cease all activities on the California High-Speed Rail project carried out or funded in whole or in part by public funds.

The Governor may only expend such minimal funds as is necessary to effect the orderly and complete termination of the project no later than June 30, 2021. The Governor and the Legislature shall not take any action that would have the effect of extending activity or supporting the successful completion of this project.

Rendering courtesy of High Speed Rail.

The multi-billion dollar high-speed rail project will someday connect Sacramento to San Diego and most major cities in between via 800 miles of new tracks, whisking commuters from San Francisco to Los Angeles in approximately three hours.

Presently, the state is at work on the first leg connecting San Jose to the Central Valley. And that’s about as far as it will ever get if DeMaio has his way, though of course Tuesday’s proposal itself has a long way to go before it even qualifies for the 2020 ballot.

Voters approved the rail plan in 2008, but at a projected cost of $40 billion. Since then the budget has ballooned to at least $77 billion and may approach 12 figures in the most pessimistic possible future budget estimates, and longtime opponents have seized on the overruns as a means to derail public support.

As for Proposition 6, the most recently released poll from mid-August found 48 percent of voters surveyed against the measure but also more than 14 percent still undecided.