Californians may be able to vote on high-speed rail again, after Governor Jerry Brown’s cap-and-trade extension carried a Republican-backed provision requiring a referendum on how the cap-and-trade funds are to be spent.
Thus far, the Los Angeles Times notes, cap-and-trade has raised nearly $5 billion for the state through fees imposed for emissions in excess of official limits. $1.5 billion of that has never been spent. A referendum in June will ask voters whether revenues collected from 2024 through the cap-and-trade program’s end in 2030 would need to be approved by a supermajority of the state legislature in order to be spent.
While the referendum would not specifically mention high-speed rail, the Times notes, Democrats argue that any spending passed by the legislature — such as $5 for planting a tree — could then provide a legal basis for approving all subsequent spending from the cap-and-trade funds. That would include high-speed rail, which is supposed to receive some of its funding from cap-and-trade, and is already underfunded and behind schedule. If the legislature does not pass any cap-and-trade spending, then high-speed rail would not receive funds from the cap-and-trade system and may have to be canceled.
Republicans intend to frame the June 2018 ballot initiative as a referendum on high-speed rail, which remains broadly unpopular, and which may soon be surpassed technologically by Elon Musk’s hyperloop, which would be faster, cheaper, and utilize existing rights-of-way.
The issue could also affect next year’s gubernatorial race: frontrunner Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already flip-flopped on high-speed rail, from opposition to support.
Critics of high-speed rail say that the project has already broken the original high-speed rail referendum in 2008, particularly because the train will no longer be as fast as advertised.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.