The state’s high-speed rail authority board verbally assaulted the state’s Republican House delegation Wednesday, blaming it for the delay of a grant that would have benefited California’s bullet train project.
The commentary came at a rail authority board meeting, where members sharply criticized a letter by California’s 14 Republican congressmen that asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to withhold a $647-million grant until a financial audit of the bullet train project can be conducted.
“This was an unbelievable, irresponsible act on the part of these members of Congress,” said rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard.
After the GOP delegation wrote its letter in late January, the Federal Transit Administration said it was deferring any action on the grant, which would help pay for a $2-billion electrical system for the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter rail system. That power system would eventually be used both by Caltrain and the high-speed rail trains.
As a result of the federal action to defer the grant, the California director of finance, Michael Cohen, rejected a second grant of $713 million to the electrification project, which would have come out of a $9-billion bond fund that voters approved in 2008 to help build the bullet train.
Without the federal grant, the whole plan appears to be unraveling.
The Republicans asserted that because the bullet train would use the electrical system, the federal grant money in effect would also go to the bullet train project.
Democrats argued that the grant was completely separate from the bullet train and meant only to help Caltrain.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, Richard said the Republican letter was based on “matters that were demonstrably untrue.”
The Republican members, he said, “acted against the interests of their own constituents. It is shocking to me.”
The state’s Republicans have long opposed the $64-billion bullet train, calling it a boondoggle that is draining money from more urgent transportation and water infrastructure needs. Until Donald Trump was elected president, they had little influence.
The transportation department’s decision to defer the grant money indicates that the state’s GOP may be gaining clout in Washington.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said the Republicans' letter was rife with "inaccuracies and innuendo" and argued that blocking the train would cost California thousands of jobs. Gov. Jerry Brown sent Chao a letter asking that she fund the grant.
But until Wednesday, the nonpartisan high-speed rail board, which normally avoids any public discussion of politics, had not addressed the matter.
Under questioning by board member Lorraine Paskett, who lives in La Cañada Flintridge, rail authority Chief Executive Jeff Morales said the delay of contractors on the project alone would cost $20 million.
Board member Lynn Schenk, a former one-term Democratic member of the House from the San Diego area, had some of the strongest comments, calling the letter a “despicable act of congressional Republican politics at its worst…. I have seen some low things in my life, but this went even lower.”