Wall Street Journal Editorial on HSR Case

Wall Street Journal
Editorial on HSR Case

09/13/14 Filed in:

In a stunning editorial
entitled California’s Democratic Derailment, the Wall
Street Journal calls upon the California Supreme
Court to save democracy by overturning the

that declared the CHSRA’s
violation of Proposition 1A unenforceable:
Wall Street Journal
Opinion, Sept. 13, 2014)


Democratic Derailment

ignore the legal caveats that voters added to the
bullet train

In theory at least, courts and ballot referenda are
checks on legislative tyranny. A California appellate
court has effectively done away with both by ruling
that the legal requirements of a bond measure
approved by voters for the state’s bullet train are
merely “guidance.” Californians ought to try this
law-as-guidance defense when they’re stopped for


Six years ago voters approved a referendum
authorizing $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail
construction, including language with stringent
“taxpayer protections.” These stipulations were,
among other things, that the state high-speed rail
authority present a detailed preliminary plan to the
legislature identifying funding sources and
environmental clearances for the train’s first
“usable segment” prior to a bond appropriation.


The legislature in 2012 green-lighted the bonds while
ignoring these stipulations. The rail authority had
pinpointed merely $6 billion of the estimated $31.5
billion necessary to complete the first 300-mile
segment from Merced to San Fernando. Only 30 miles of
environmental clearances had been certified. 


Last year Sacramento County Superior Court Judge
Michael Kenny ruled that the authority “abused its
discretion by approving a funding plan that did not
comply with the requirements of the law.” But in July
Sacramento’s Third Appellate District sanctioned the
lawlessness with a decision as impressive for its
cognitive dissonance as its legal afflatus.


On the one hand, the court opined that “voters
clearly intended to place the Authority in a
financial straitjacket by establishing a mandatory
multistep process to ensure the financial viability
of the project.” But then the judges ruled that the
challenge to the legislature’s invalid bond
appropriation and authority’s preliminary plan,
“however deficient,” was in effect moot.


The court could require the authority to redo its
plan, but the judges say that would be unnecessary
since the Director of Finance must still approve a
rigorous final plan before the authority can/spend/
the bond revenue. In other words, the law’s
procedural requirements don’t matter.


Yet the bond referendum had ordered a preliminary
plan for legislative review precisely so lawmakers
could force the rail authority to address their
concerns before appropriating the bonds. This added a
modicum of political accountability.


So here we have the spectacle of legislators ignoring
the very taxpayer protections that they had used to
gull voters into approving a ballot measure that
might never have passed without those protections.
The lesson is that politicians will grab any new
power or spending authority voters give them. They’ll
blow through the caveats and dare voters to sue to
stop them.


As for the courts, they’re supposed to enforce the
law as written. California’s Supreme Court now has an
opportunity to do what the appellate judges did not
and order Sacramento to follow the bond language. At
stake are the rule of law and democratic governance
in the Golden State.

Comments are closed.