Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited the state last month to pressure legislators to vote yes on a business plan that was sent to them about 30 days ago. He wants a decision now. August is not soon enough.
There is no reason to rush. The first contracts for the first section will not be signed until end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. Darrell Steinberg, president pro tem of the Senate, believes senators have all the relevant information on the project and, borrowing a quote from Sen. Joe Simitian, said "reasonable people can disagree."
However, in my opinion, some critical questions remain unanswered and they all point to this being a very high-risk, poorly executed project.
Senator Alan Lowenthal and Sen. Simitian are strong believers in public transit. They both believe the concept of high-speed rail is a good one. However they know that this project is not what the people voted on and is not well planned and certainly not well managed.
It seems the way it goes in the Senate is there are champions for certain subjects and no doubt these senators are seen as the experts. We need them to take the lead and just say no. A yes vote from them would be even more devastating to the public trust since they are the most aware of the issues of the project.
With a $16 billion deficit and a tax increase looming over the legislature with the threat of trigger cuts to essential programs like education and social programs, voting for a rail project that caters to the rich is just the wrong move. Starting this project now will result in a high-speed disaster for the state.
To quote Sen. Lowenthal, the senators know what the right thing to do on this project. No special deals or conditions attached to spending can make right a program that has been on the wrong track for years.
Do they vote against the governor, the leadership of the state Democratic Party, even the president of the United States or do they endanger their future political careers and vote no? But there's another consideration; it's what the voters think.
The public will remember a courageous act. In fact, if the senators vote no to funding this project, they would be considered heroes and frankly people vote for heroes. It might just help restore the public faith in the state Legislature.
Forest Lane, Menlo Park