San Francisco

Gavin Newsom, Seeking Governor's Office, Now Backs High-Speed Rail

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he no longer opposes California's $64 billion high-speed rail plan, after withdrawing support for the project more than two years ago.

He told the Sacramento Press Club that he would "100 percent" seek a solid funding source for the train project if he's elected governor in 2018.

The San Francisco Democrat is raising money for a bid when Gov. Jerry Brown is termed out then.

"I want to be honest about the concerns, and transparent about how this project's changed, and be honest about the fact that it's unlikely to generate a big surplus," Newsom said. "There's only one rail system in the world that actually generates a profit. I'm not opposed to the vision."

Newsom, once an ardent supporter of the project who campaigned for a bond measure on it with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said he grew critical of the high-speed rail authority's ever-changing business plan.

It morphed from a $33 billion plan to a $98 billion and now is back down to a $64 billion plan and has also changed routes since voters approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for it in 2008.

He told a conservative Seattle radio show host in February 2014: "I would take the dollars and redirect it to other, more pressing infrastructure needs, and I am not the only Democrat that feels this way. And I've got to tell you, I am one of the few that just said it publicly."

On Wednesday, Newsom noted that when voters approved the project, about a third of the funding was to come from the state bonds, about a third from the federal government and about a third from private financing.

But the state has only received about $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money. Private companies would run the system and operate concessions if the project is built.

Brown has been a staunch supporter, and his administration negotiated the first long-term funding source for it, which lawmakers approved as part of the 2014-15 budget. That gave the project about $500 million a year from fees charged to polluters. It's unclear whether lawmakers will approve that funding stream for future years.

"I want to give the governor the benefit of the doubt," on leveraging more money from that program, Newsom said Wednesday. "If he is successful to invite and secure the private-sector money, that's a game-changer. And if we can do that, then this thing starts to pencil out. Without that, then I remain concerned about financing."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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