Proponents of a ballot measure that would prioritize water storage projects over the construction of high-speed rail have begun collecting the signatures necessary to place the measure on California’s 2016 ballot.
The High Speed Rail Bond Suspension Initative — authored by Republican state Sen. Bob Huff (San Dimas) and Board of Equalization Vice Chair George Runner — would reallocate roughly $8 billion in unspent bond money earmarked for the construction of the state’s first high-speed rail system toward financing water storage projects as the state continues to battle a devastating drought.
The measure would also repurpose $2.7 billion earmarked for water storage under the voter-approved Proposition 1 in 2014, and would amend the state constitution to establish domestic water use and irrigation as the state’s top two water priorities, ahead of environmental conservation.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, which is sponsoring the measure, told the Los Angeles Times that the measure’s backers had received $2 million for the signature-gathering campaign. Runner told the paper that the figure is “what we need to be able to get it on the ballot.”
The measure’s backers have until July 25 to collect the 365,880 signatures necessary for its inclusion on the 2016 ballot in November.
As Breitbart News has previously reported, the measure comes as state residents increasingly support water storage construction spending while support for the pricey high-speed rail project has foundered in recent months.
A Hoover Institution Golden State Poll conducted in January found that a full 62 percent of California voters favor prioritizing government spending on water construction over any other project. The same poll found that just 39 percent of state voters approve of Gov. Jerry Brown’s support for the high-speed rail project, and a majority of Californians (53%) would back a measure similar to the one proposed by Huff and Runner.
Still, the measure is likely to face opposition from construction groups and unions who have much to lose if construction of the high-speed rail (and the billions of dollars in building costs it entails) were suspended.
“They have basically a deeply flawed measure,” California Transportation Commission member Jim Earp told the Times. “They are trying to shift the cost of water from users to taxpayers. They might as well throw their money into one of the rivers they want to dam. All you have to do is create enough confusion and doubt in the voters’ minds that it won’t pass the smell test.”
However, Runner has repeatedly asserted that the measure will not lead to a tax increase; additionally, the measure’s fiscal impact report estimates the state could save up to $700 million annually in debt-service costs.
The high-speed rail project — long advocated for by Gov. Jerry Brown — has continued to struggle with massive cost overruns, lengthy construction delays and lawsuits over its potential environmental impact. Breitbart’s Chriss Street reported in October that the project’s total cost could ultimately exceed $90 billion, more than double the amount approved by state voters in 2008’s Proposition 1A. The projected cost of the Central Valley stretch is already ballooning by $260 million, or 5%.
With just $9 billion in funds from that bond measure, an additional $3.2 billion in federal government grants and up to $1 billion in annual state cap-and-trade revenue, the high-speed rail project is still approximately $67 billion underfunded.