The two remaining candidates in California Assembly District 21 don't agree on much -- the merits of the state's high-speed rail project being no exception.
The state is proposing arguably the largest public works project in U.S. history, costing about $69 billion over several decades based on the latest estimates.
Republican Jack Mobley joins many in his party blasting the project as too expensive. He said he will not vote for it.
Democrat Adam Gray argues that construction of the fast train would jump-start the state and local economies. He vows to fight for its passage.
The two candidates will compete in the November general election to represent the newly drawn, predominantly Democratic district, which encompasses all of Merced County and the southwest section of Stanislaus County, including Ceres and parts of Modesto.
The high-speed rail debate illustrates many of the differences between the political ideologies of the two candidates. For example, the candidates interpret the price for construction very differently.
The project is expected to receive a federal subsidy of roughly $42 billion, according to the rail authority's most optimistic estimate.
Gray said this money would go a long way toward creating jobs and boosting the economy in California.
"It's absolutely a stimulus," he said. "If we want to do something about the double-digit unemployment, we've got to focus government on investing in the infrastructure that makes the community attractive for new investment."
Mobley questioned the wisdom of going after the federal funding for California.
"Where's that money coming from? That's money that's coming out of somebody else's pocket," he said. "It's going to be a zero-sum game because it's not going to be stimulating the economy in other parts of the country."
California's share of the construction cost is estimated at about $22.5 billion dollars, or roughly an average of $750 million dollars annually for 30 years, according to the rail authority.
"By infusing all that money, there'll be jobs for a few years but then it will go away," Mobley said. "You'll be left with a project that will be a millstone around the neck of California."
Gray said that money would be spent on roads if not on the rail project. "When you talk about the cost, transportation is a core component of what government should invest in," he said. "We're going to be investing money in transportation. The question is how?"
While the rail authority estimates the initial construction phase would generate about 16,500 construction-related jobs for the region between Merced and Fresno, recent studies suggest building the rail lines would kick up a significant amount of dust and debris into the Central Valley's already dirty air.
"The pollution that's going to be created by the initial construction, the amount of dust and carbon particles that will be released into the atmosphere, it's going to have a devastating effect for at least 10 years," Mobley said.
The rail authority, however, argues that once the trains are operating, carbon dioxide emission savings will be roughly 42 pounds a trip.
"The long-term benefits far outweigh the impact of construction," Gray said. "I guess we could stop building everything, but that's not what we're going to do. We're going to grow. Let's grow smart."
The rail projects' effect on agriculture has been center stage in the news, especially after the Merced and Madera county farm bureaus recently launched a lawsuit against the authority.
"The effect on agricultural land is going to be tremendous," Mobley said. "That's the hub that the Central Valley turns on."
Gray said he believes many in the agriculture community support the project and he would like to help the rail authority work with local farmers more effectively.
"My overarching concern with the authority has been that they haven't effectively communicated and worked with the agricultural community," he said.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.