Budget Update--High Speed Rail Funding In Jeopardy
March 16, 2011
High Speed Rail funding is on the chopping block, will a compromise be met?
From First and Mission Streets. [Photo by Steve Boland]

If the Fiscal Year 2011 budget debate in Washington has been dramatic, it has also unfolded utterly predictably. But though threats to HSR funding were foreseeable, their ultimate effect is still highly uncertain. 

The GOP-controlled House proposes cuts to HSR that do three things:

1. Eliminate all 2011 funding for high speed rail projects
2. Rescind unobligated funds for high speed rail appropriated in 2010 and 2009
3. Bar other states from using the $2.4 billion in high speed rail funds rejected by Florida, as well as the $614 million passed up by Wisconsin and Ohio.

According to Californians For High Speed Rail, if these cuts pass, they could jeopardize “$2.3 – $3 billion in expected federal funds” for California’s HSR project alone.

But can the unobligated funds be rescinded? The answer is unclear. Most reside in a legal grey area were they have been “committed” but not “obligated.” And as has already been the case with questions about high speed rail funding (ie. the legal right of Florida Governor Scott to reject federal HSR funds), the answer might require a court ruling.

All this might be avoided however, if a more moderate appropriations bill than the House proposal is ultimately passed. An alternative taking form in the Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to preserve high speed rail funding.

Within the next week a conference committee will convene to hash out a compromise appropriations bill that both houses of Congress can approve. While the committee hasn’t yet been announced, certain to play a key role are the senior members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, including: 

Daniel Inouye, Democratic Senator of Hawaii and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Patty Murray, Democratic Senator of Washington
Norm Dicks, Democratic Congressman of Pennsylvania, Ranking Member, House Appropriations

Thad Cochran, Republican Senator of Mississippi, Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations
Mitch McConnell, Republican Minority Leader, Senator of Kentucky
Harold Rogers, Republican Congressman of Kentucky, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee

If you have a stake in the fight, these are the people to call. Their decision in conference is the one that matters.

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