California has the reputation — deserved or not — of being overly bureaucratic. A bill being considered in the state Assembly won’t help to dispel that perception.
Lawmakers are reportedly combing over a bill that would create a Department of High-Speed Trains that would take away some of the autonomy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). The legislation, AB 145, would relegate the HSRA to an advisory role. The Sacramento Bee reported that the bill passed the Assembly on a 50-16 vote on Friday, June 3. Its next stop will be the California Senate.
The bill comes on the heels of SB 517, another proposed law that would shift the HSRA into the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Authored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, the legislation was passed by the Senate on a 26-12 vote on June 1. SB 517 now heads to the California Assembly for hearings.
The HSRA is the state agency charged with planning the state’s high-speed train project. The project has been under fire by various critics including the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, whose office issued a fairly critical report last month on the status of high-speed rail in California.
Lowenthal and Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, also questioned the project extensively, and ordered an audit of the HSRA because of testimony of the authority’s officials in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee earlier this year. The audit uncovered “significant inadequacies in the management practices” of the HSRA, including “a finding that contractors were paid $4 million in fees without documentation that work was actually performed,” according to an April 29 press release from Lowenthal’s office.
“I have been concerned for some time that the authority has had trouble transitioning from a promotional agency to an organization that can manage a project of this magnitude,” Lowenthal said in the release.
California’s high-speed rail project would connect various northern and southern cities in the state with a rail line through the San Joaquin Valley. The train would travel at speeds approaching 200 mph. Construction will be paid for thanks to a $9.95 billion bond approved by voters in November 2008 as well as additional funding from the federal government and other parties.