Jerry Brown asks California Supreme Court to intervene on high-speed rail

dsiders@sacbee.comJanuary 24, 2014 

HSRimage1

A view of a high speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high speed rail network. California High-Speed Rail Authority

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The Brown administration, which previously downplayed the significance of court rulings against California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project, asked the California Supreme Court to intervene Friday, saying the rulings “imperil” the project.

The request comes after a Sacramento Superior Court judge in November ordered the state to rescind its original funding plan for the project. The lower court ruled that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to comply with provisions of Proposition 1A, the voter-approved 2008 initiative that included initial funding for the project.

In a request for expedited review, state officials said “the trial court’s approach to these issues cripples government’s ability to function.” It said the rulings threaten state and federal funding for high-speed rail and could have implications for other infrastructure projects.

The request, filed late Friday afternoon, comes after state and federal officials assured lawmakers in Washington that the rail project would go forward despite its legal difficulties. Following delays, rail officials plan to start construction in the Central Valley this year.

“We are going to be building high-speed rail in California,” the rail authority board chairman, Dan Richard, said at a hearing earlier this month. “We believe we have the funds in hand.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has made high-speed rail a priority of his administration, and officials expressed significant concerns Friday.

“If left to stand, these lower court rulings would not only prevent the state from proceeding quickly to build high-speed rail as the Legislature and voters intended,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said in an email. “They could also inject unwarranted uncertainty into the state’s ability to sell voter-approved bonds in a timely manner to finance public works projects.”

Rail officials argued in their filing that a normal appeals process could take years to resolve and is “not a real choice.”

“Since the project’s inception, opponents of high-speed rail have tried to block its construction,” the filing said. “Now, two rulings of the Sacramento Superior Court – which are otherwise unreviewable as a practical matter – imperil the project by erecting obstacles found nowhere in the voter-approved bond act.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, one of the litigants in the case, said the state’s filing “is an acknowledgment that this is not merely a bump in the road.”

He added, “The administration has made clear they don’t care what anyone else thinks, or what the courts rule, they’re going to try to appeal this, try to get this done.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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