12 Nov UPDATE: Ballot proposal would divert high-speed rail money to water
Two well-known Republican state lawmakers, including one who used to represent portions of the Santa Clarita Valley, submitted language Thursday for a ballot initiative asking voters to redirect about $8 billion in bond money from the state’s high-speed rail project to build water storage.
Board of Equalization member and former local legislator George Runner, along with state Sen. Bob Huff, San Dimas, said they filed language for the initiative with the attorney general’s office.
The ballot proposal would also authorize shifting $2.7 billion in unspent water bond money to water storage construction and amend the state Constitution to give drinking water and irrigation priority from California’s limited water supply.
“This initiative secures our water future by building long-overdue expansions of existing facilities and new projects to store, deliver and recycle water for our families, farms and businesses,” Huff said in a statement.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Whether the initiative actually makes it to the ballot depends on how much money supporters can generate to collect signatures.
Runner said the campaign would have sufficient money to fund a robust signature-gathering effort. He said the initiative would offer voters a “decision point” on how they want to spend state money.
“To me, this is no different than a family trying to decide its own priorities. A lot of times in a family you have conflicting priorities, but you have a limited budget,” he said.
Voters in 2008 approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for the project to link Northern and Southern California by high-speed trains.
But many have now soured on it and have questioned whether it will cost the $68 billion that has been projected.
Project leaders have faced criticism for the train’s planned route, engineering proposals and insufficient federal funding dedicated to it.
Under some plans under consideration, the bullet train would run through the Santa Clarita Valley, though local residents and officials have pushed for the rail to instead take an alternate route through the San Gabriel Mountains.
Whatever route the train ends up taking, city officials have said it needs to be put fully underground to minimize its effects.
Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said Thursday he had not reviewed Huff’s and Runner’s proposal in detail, but that he supports the idea of diverting funds away from the high-speed train.
“The high-speed rail is going to implode, so it’s just a question of whether it implodes under its own weight, or if the next governor pulls the plug, or the court ultimately rules they’re out of compliance, which they are,” he said.
Wilk previously sponsored a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to re-purpose high-speed rail funds for school construction and modernization. That bill was halted in committee earlier this year.
A number of other initiatives, from proposals to raise income and sales taxes to legalizing recreational marijuana, are expected to compete for attention on the November 2016 ballot.