In November, California voters might be confronted with Proposition 1, which would provide nearly $10 billion in bond funds to build a bullet train from San Francisco and Sacramento to San Diego. Or they might see Proposition 1 on their ballot pamphlets and Proposition 1A -- which does essentially the same thing, with a few legislative tweaks -- on a supplemental pamphlet, though they’d only be able to cast a vote for 1A. It all depends on what happens in the next few days in Sacramento, and on whether the lawyers scrambling to make sense of it are correct.
If this seems confusing, it’s because the always frenzied finale of the state’s legislative session has been reduced to sheer bug-eyed insanity by the combination of a budget stalemate and the November election. And if any one bill could serve as the perfect illustration of the Capitol’s dysfunction, it would be AB 3034 from Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton).
The bill updates the language of Proposition 1, which was written in 2002. It also contains some fiscal controls to make sure the bond money isn’t misspent on administrative matters, and would help segments of the line that aren’t part of the project’s first phase -- from San Francisco to Los Angeles -- to get funding concurrently. In a world where logic and common sense ruled, it would have been approved months ago; in Sacramento, it has been stalled by turf wars among politicians who want the line to pass through their districts or who simply object to the notion of spending bond money on a bullet train, and now it has been derailed by the legislative blockade imposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The governor has promised to ignore or veto any bill that crosses his desk until the Legislature approves a state budget, which is a month-and-a-half overdue. The first victim of Schwarzenegger’s self-defeating directive is AB 3034, which his administration has backed. It already missed the Monday deadline for amending the language of a ballot measure. Now that it’s too late to fix Proposition 1, lawmakers hope they can simply replace it with 1A, which would contain the language of AB 3034. But unless the bill is signed by Saturday, it may be too late for that too. And it’s still unclear how the measure will appear on the ballot.
The failure of AB 3034, while aggravating, wouldn’t be the end of the world. Even without it, voters will get to decide on the high-speed train proposal. Yet a process that should have been simple has been turned into a circus by a Legislature that seems increasingly unable to compromise on even the most straightforward of bills, and the likely result will be a ballot mash-up that will leave voters deeply confused.