Central Valley lawmakers worried that their counterparts in Southern California are set to derail plans for a high-speed rail maintenance hub in the Valley will have to wait another day for peace of mind.
The state's Budget Conference Committee -- a 10-member panel comprised of members from both state legislative chambers charged with closing the state's budget gap -- put off a vote on funding for the state's high-speed rail project Thursday.
The hub, along with access to the system, were among the points local leaders touted to build support for the statewide project. Losing out on the hub would be a blow to the Valley and to Merced County, which is the frontrunner for landing the maintenance station.
State Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, a Democrat from San Diego and vice chairwoman of the committee, asked to table the funding proposal to remove negative comments that could jeopardize federal economic stimulus money.
The board was cautioned against state Sen. Alan Lowenthal's proposal to pay out only half of the authority's $139.2 million project funding until a new business proposal was submitted to the state Senate. Such a move could lower confidence in the project and put stimulus funding in jeopardy, experts said.
The committee could vote again on the proposal as soon as today.
Even more extreme language -- also from Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach -- had already been removed from the funding proposal, several sources in Sacramento told the Sun-Star.
State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, drafted a letter earlier this week to Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority. Eight other politicians from Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito and Stanislaus counties signed on to the letter, which was obtained by the Sun-Star on Thursday.
The letter said Lowenthal was expected to use language in the final 2009-2010 state budget that would bar any funds from being used for a rail-system maintenance hub in the Central Valley.
"We find this attempt at legislative interference unacceptable and ask that your board formally and immediately oppose such budget language," the letter stated. "The location of the (hub) should be decided by your board based on factors such as what is the best use of tax dollars, what logistically makes sense for the system and where it is most practical to build a facility."
Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, addressed the Senate budget subcommittee after Lowenthal proposed the Central Valley language and also wrote several letters denouncing the move, an aide said. Galgiani sponsored a bill to include the construction of a high-speed rail project on the November ballot.
At an event in Merced in March, a project manager for the authority said the organization considered Castle Commerce Center its first choice for a major maintenance hub in the Central Valley. The county has a committee that's lobbying to bring the hub to Castle.
Other maintenance sites are being considered near Chowchilla and Madera.
At least for now, the move to exclude funding for Central Valley projects seems to be dropped, sources said. Local officials will continue to monitor the situation closely.
"Whatever we need to do, not only for Merced County, but up and down the whole valley here, we will do," County Supervisor John Pedrozo said. "We're an integral part of the state and we need to make sure that everyone knows that."
Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.