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California High-Speed Rail Losing Support, Poll Shows

A majority of voters no longer support building a $68 billion high-speed passenger rail system connecting California’s population centers, a new poll shows, even as Governor Jerry Brown is pushing the project forward.

While 53 percent of voters approved a bond issue for the project in 2008, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll published in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper, found that 59 percent would oppose it if given another chance to vote.

Brown, a 74-year-old Democrat, allocated some of the $9.95 billion of bonds for the system in his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, even though a deficit in the spending plan has ballooned to $15.7 billion. He wants voters to increase sales and income taxes or slash 3 weeks off the school year while still spending money on the rail line.

“California voters have clearly reconsidered their support for high-speed rail,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California. “They want the chance to vote again -— and they want to vote no. The growing budget deficit is making Californians hesitant about spending so much money on a project like this one when they’re seeing cuts to public education and law enforcement.”

The state-run authority charged with building the system revised its business plan in April amid public opposition, chopping $30 billion off the cost.

Bullet Train

The bullet-train project, eventually linking San Francisco to Los Angeles, would cost $68.4 billion, down from the $98.5 billion estimated in November, according to the California High- Speed Rail Authority. The proposal saves money by upgrading existing commuter and freight lines in some areas, rather than build new track, and counts on funds from California’s new program selling pollution credits.

“Over the past several months, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has made significant and positive changes to its plans for constructing and operating a high-speed rail system,” Dan Richard, the board chairman of the authority, said in a statement in response to the poll. “We made these changes in direct response to public input from across the state.

‘‘The result is a revised plan to deliver the benefits of high-speed rail sooner and at significantly less cost to the taxpayers.’’

Brown’s budget includes $6.1 billion in infrastructure costs for the first 130 miles (209 kilometers) of the project. Of that, $2.8 billion is from state bonds, according to the Finance Department.

California is the only U.S. state working to lay tracks for trains to run as fast as 220 miles (354 kilometers) an hour, after Congress cut off 2012 funds for such projects.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll surveyed 1,002 registered voters May 17 through May 21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at mmarois@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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