SACRAMENTO, California — A state appellate court on Thursday overturned two lower court rulings that had stalled funding for California's $68 billion bullet train, handing a big win to the project and allowing the state to resume selling bonds to pay for it.
The court overturned rulings by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny last year in which he said the high-speed rail project no longer complies with the promises made to voters when they approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for it in 2008. In siding with Kings County and Central Valley landowners, Kenny invalidated the sale of $8.6 billion in state bonds and ordered the California High-Speed Rail Authority to write a new funding plan.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had argued that the state had not identified all the funding for the first full segment of the rail line in the Central Valley, a cost of about $26 billion, and instead had found just $6 billion to pay for construction. They also argued the state did not have all the necessary environmental clearances as voters were promised.
But the three-judge panel said it was up to the Legislature to decide if there was enough detail in the funding plan, which lawmakers approved in 2012. The judges also urged that deference should be given to a state finance committee that considers bond sales for the state, saying they could not find any legal precedent for "the trial court's highly unusual scrutiny of the finance committee's determination that it is 'necessary or desirable' to grant the authority's request to authorize the issuance of the bonds."
Dan Richard, chairman of the board that oversees the rail project, said officials are committed to "building a modern high-speed rail system that will connect the state, precisely as the voters called for when they passed Proposition 1A."
The appellate panel acknowledged there are legal questions about whether the project complies with promises made to voters, but it said those questions were beyond the scope of their ruling.
"Substantial legal questions loom in the trial court as to whether the high-speed rail project the California High-Speed Rail Authority seeks to build is the project approved by the voters in 2008," they wrote. "But those questions are not before us."
Stuart Flashman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the decision was a slap in the face to voters who rely on what they are told.
"What this says, essentially, if I was your average voter and I was looking at a ballot measure, I'm going to vote no," he said. "I don't care what they promise me, I don't believe it."