Gov. Newsom to scale back struggling high-speed rail, twin tunnels projects

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SACRAMENTO ­— Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his State of the State speech Tuesday that he intends to scale back California’s $77 billion high-speed rail system, saying that while the state has “the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield...there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

In another break from his predecessor, Jerry Brown, the governor also announced in his speech that he will downsize the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta twin tunnels project to one tunnel.

While he hit the breaks on the bullet train, the Democratic governor said he still supports finishing the Central Valley portion of the project.

“But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” Newsom said. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Newsom reiterated his steadfast opposition to the dictates of President Donald Trump on immigration, climate change and other critical issues where the state and federal government are at odds. That was starkly apparent in Trump’s State of the Union speech last week, he said.

“He described a country where inequality doesn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change doesn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum,” Newsom said.

State of the State speeches typically provide governors an opportunity to lay out their ambitious policy agendas and wish lists for the year ahead, and Newsom did not squander that opportunity. He offered his audience, a joint session of the Assembly and Senate at the state Capitol, few details of how he hoped to deliver on his many of his far-reaching initiatives.

“The tough calls we must make together on rail, water and energy. How we protect migrants, care for seniors and help the homeless, and how we will tackle the affordability crisis that is coming to define life in this state. I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But the only way to find them is to face these issues honestly.

One of the main precepts of Newsom’s short time in office has been to directly challenge the hard-line policies of the Republican president, taking particular aim at a Trump administration immigration policy that the governor sees as anathema to the interests of a state where 27 percent of the population is foreign born.

On Monday, Newsom ordered the removal of roughly 360 California National Guard members who had been stationed at the U.S-Mexico border for the past year, deployed by Brown at the request of the Trump administration.

“I think this whole border issue is manufactured, the crisis on the border is a manufactured crisis,” Newsom said Monday, noting that border crossings are at their lowest level since 1971. “We are not interested in participating in this political theater.”

On his first day in office, Newsom also took a swipe at Trump by announcing plans for an expansion of Medi-Cal to cover young immigrants in the U.S. illegally and to require consumers in the state to carry health insurance, a mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act that was nixed in 2017 by the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress.

Newsom has already shown himself to be “ambitious and measured” and has dispelled concerns that he lacked the political maturity to resist overspending or immediately launch ill-conceived, massive new government programs, said San Jose State University political scientist Melinda Jackson.

“I think he got to a strong start and I kind of feel like this is a golden moment for him. Everything is coming together,” Jackson said. “He seems to be moving toward an expanded safety net in California. I see this as California kind of becoming not just the resistance to Trump but an alternative.”

Newsom’s address Tuesday is a reminder of how much the state’s finances have recovered from the Great Recession, an era of seemingly insurmountable deficits and a tattered safety net for Californians flattened by the economic downturn.

The pragmatism of the past eight years under Brown, who steered California’s economic recovery, has been replaced with a progressive idealism of an ambitious governor who had the good political fortune of inheriting billions in surplus.

The Democratic governor quickly showed he was not shy about spending that money. Newsom’s $209 billion budget proposal, released in January, includes $1.8 billion to boost California’s enrollment in early education and child care programs, $500 million to help local governments build shelters and add services to help the homeless, a $1 billion “working families tax credit,” and $1.3 billion for a new effort to build more homes and apartment units in a state starved for affordable housing.

During his first month in office, Newsom also launched a “strike team” to overhaul the problem-plagued Department of Motor Vehicles and called on state lawmakers to beef up a California Department of Justice unit responsible for enforcing laws on gun sales.

He announced a goal to ensure that parents of newborns or newly adopted babies receive six months of paid leave, and he vowed to wrest control of the state’s Juvenile Justice Division away from corrections officials and have to run by government health and human services providers.

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