Justices Won't Fast-Track Bullet Train Funding


     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The California Supreme Court rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to bypass an appellate review of a ruling against initial funding plans for the state's beleaguered high-speed rail dream.
     Last year, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued to validate nearly $9 billion in bonds to fund the first leg of the nation's first high-speed rail network, which will eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains that can reach 220 mph.
     Officials said validating the bonds would also shield the project - passed by voters as Proposition 1A in 2008 with a $42.6 billion price tag that has since gone as high as $100 billion - from persistent litigation that has dogged the plan from the beginning and also imperiled federal funding.
     But last November, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny held that the project's finance committee failed to provide any evidence that "supports a determination that it was necessary or desirable to authorize the issuance of more that $8 billion in bonds under Proposition 1A," a requirement under state law. Specifically, the committee failed to show how it would cover a projected $25 billion shortfall for the first segment of track, Kenny said.
     After renewed promises to build the high-speed rail network in both his budget and "state of the state" talks earlier this month, Brown pushed the review of Kenny's decision directly to the state's Supreme Court - hoping to bypass the years-long appellate process that would have destroyed all hope of funding the project at all.
     But in a unanimous order Wednesday, the justices punted the case back to the Third Appellate District in Sacramento where it belonged - but directed that court to "expedite its consideration of this matter."
     Preliminary oppositions are due next week, while the state must make its written arguments by Feb. 10, the justices said.
     A spokesman for the Brown administration said it was satisfied with the Supreme Court's decision, claiming it only wanted the case to be heard quickly.