Reality Check: Can CA Governor Nix High-Speed Rail Project?

Politician claims a California governor could unilaterally kill the High-Speed Rail Project, and he’s right.

Election season is right around the corner and that means it’s time to prepare for the onslaught of political ads that will hit the airwaves.

The race for the Republican nomination for governor features Tea Party favorite Tim Donnelly and moderate conservative Neel Kashkari.

Kashkari is viewed as a long-shot in the race, but he’s pumped $1 million of his own money into his campaign and is the first gubernatorial candidate to hit the TV airwaves.

In his first ad, Kashkari makes a few tried and true Republican promises like cutting taxes and moving people off of welfare. Kashkari also vows to cut wasteful spending and “first up is Jerry Brown’s crazy train” – a reference to the California High-Speed Rail project.

Kashkari gives the impression that, if elected, he’d be able to do away with the project unilaterally, without the support of the legislature or voters.

Is that even possible? Do California governors have the power to nix projects that aren’t to their liking?

The answer to both questions, is yes.

Kashkari’s spokesperson, Jessica Ng, explained to NBC Bay Area the basis of her boss’ claim: “As governor, Neel would have the power of the line item veto in the budget. Which means that any appropriation that the legislature puts forward for high-speed rail, he would be able to actually line item veto that out.”

And, it turns out that Ng’s explanation is absolutely spot on.

The line item veto is not unique to California – 43 other states afford their governors the power. But in California, overriding a line item veto is especially hard as it takes an absolute two-thirds majority of the state legislature. That means two-thirds of the entire membership of each house of the legislature must vote to override - not just two-thirds of those who showed up on any given day.

This reality was echoed by San Jose State Political Science Professor Garrick Percival who said, “if, in fact, [Democrats] do regain a two-third’s majority, even with that I don’t that there’s a guarantee that anything could stop a Republican governor from killing the [high-speed rail] project slowly over time.”

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