Congress poised to reject high-speed rail funding

Bee Washington BureauApril 20, 2012 

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration sought $1 billion for high-speed rail next year; Congress is on track to provide zip.

In a bad sign -- but not a killing blow -- for California's ambitions, senators this week joined their U.S. House counterparts in dismissing the administration's funding request. The bicameral blow-off means a fiscal 2013 transportation spending bill will omit the high-speed rail dollars that President Barack Obama wanted.

On its face, the omission of new high-speed support does not directly impede California's program. The state already has received $3.3 billion in federal funds to get the project started, and no additional funds were expected for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

"This is something we anticipated," said Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "In our business plan, we do not expect any additional federal funds for at least three years."

Long-term, though, the omission underscores the complications California could face in coming years when federal funds are explicitly relied upon. The state's latest high-speed rail business plan anticipates the federal government providing $42 billion of the total project cost, now pegged at $68.4 billion.

The congressional funding decisions happen in the annual appropriations bills, which are separately passed in both House and Senate. Lawmakers then negotiate a final deal. When neither the House nor the Senate includes money, it's not supposed to pop up in the final bill, and members of Congress this year have explicitly promised to forgo such last-minute maneuvers.

On Thursday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the $53 billion funding bill that covers federal transportation and housing programs. A key subcommittee had passed the bill earlier in the week without any discussion about high-speed rail.

Instead of the high-speed rail funding requested by Obama, the Senate bill offers $1.75 billion for assorted rail programs, with most of the money going to Amtrak.

"It's unfortunate that high-speed rail has become a high-profile political project," Richard said, "and I hope in the future it will revert to being just another transportation alternative."

Read more of this story at fblinks.com/conrail. The reporter can be reached at (202) 383-0006, mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or @MichaelDoyle10 on Twitter.

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