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California says Trump’s high-speed rail cut was payback for state’s stand on border wall

Gov. Gavin Newsom: ‘Let’s level about the high-speed rail’

Governor Gavin Newsom in Tuesday's State of the State address gave his vision for building high-speed rail in California.
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Governor Gavin Newsom in Tuesday's State of the State address gave his vision for building high-speed rail in California.

California in a new lawsuit alleges the Trump administration canceled funding for the state’s high-speed rail project as political retribution for Gov. Gavin Newsom opposition to the president’s border wall plan.

The lawsuit Newsom’s administration filed in federal court in San Francisco attempts to recover money from the nearly $1 billion contract the federal government canceled last week.

The state also plans to file a request for a temporary restraining order, which will ask a judge to block the federal government from using the high-speed rail money for other purposes.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced Thursday it would end its $928 million contract with California because the state hadn’t kept up its end of the agreement and “has failed to make reasonable progress on the project.” It also said California “abandoned” its initial plan to build the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Newsom insists he has not wavered from the ultimate goal to connect the two major cities, although he generated widespread confusion during his February State of the State speech when he announced there “simply isn’t a path” for that part of the project. The price tag for the complete line is now estimated to cost $77 billion or more.

Instead, Newsom said he would focus in the short-term on connecting Central Valley cities Merced and Bakersfield.

The lawsuit argues high speed rail is critical for the state’s transportation needs and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The project’s fate could affect thousands of construction worker jobs, particularly in the Central Valley, State Building and Construction Trades Council President Robbie Hunter said. He commended the governor for defending what he described as California’s rightful portion of federal transportation funding.

“We need this clean, high-speed mass transit,” Hunter said. “We deserve our fair share for our growing population.”

In the temporary restraining order the Newsom administration plans to file, the state argues the Trump administration’s decision to claw back the money was political retaliation.

“The real motive underlying FRA’s action was political: to punish California for opposing President Trump’s proposed border wall,” the state plans to argue. “There is no reasonable alternative explanation for FRA’s abrupt and unprecedented action.”

The lawsuit links Trump’s decision to restrict California rail funding to Newsom’s criticism of Trump’s immigration plan.

For instance, the lawsuit notes that Newsom on February 18 criticized Trump’s effort to build more barriers at the Mexico border as a “manufactured crisis.” California also filed a lawsuit to block Trump’s plan to pay for the project with money that Congress had allocated for military projects.

The next day, the lawsuit notes, Trump on Twitter criticized California’s high-speed rail plan.

“As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed suit,” Trump wrote. “California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge.”

He added in another message on Twitter, “The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall.”

High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Lenny Mendonca said at a Tuesday morning board meeting that the state is committed to the project.

“While this project has long been a political football, our determination to get the work done and bring high-speed rail to California is undaunted,” “This project is the right thing to do from a mobility, environmental and economic standpoint. It’s right for California and the nation.”

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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