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Senate Subcommittee Approves $45.2 Million for High-Speed Rail

A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday approved a $45.2 million budget for California's high-speed rail project, $40 million more than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed but less than half the funding the rail board had requested.

Mehdi Morshed, the board's executive director, said the amount authorized by the subcommittee would not leave any money to buy rights-of-way, but would allow the board to do some of the engineering and environmental work planned for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

"Obviously, it does a lot of good, but not as much as $103 million," he said, referring to the money originally sought by the board.

Morshed said he could not immediately determine how much engineering and environmental work the board would be able to do with the additional $40 million until he talked to the board's consultants.

"It takes some time to figure out what it means and how we can divide up the money," he said.

The board is recommending that California build a $40 billion, 700-mile high-speed rail system connecting California's major cities with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph.

A $9.9 billion bond measure on the November 2008 ballot would provide part of the funding for a first leg of that line. Under a plan proposed by the board's staff, it would link Anaheim, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno and the San Francisco Bay area.

Later extensions would take the trains to San Diego and Sacramento.

In January, Schwarzenegger proposed a 2007-08 budget for the board of about $1.2 million, enough to keep the agency's small staff in place but not enough to do any work on the project.

The board requested an additional $103 million - $66 million for engineering and environmental work and $37 million to buy rights-of-way that could be threatened by other development.

In a revised budget plan released last week, the Republican governor offered $5.2 million. Most of that - $3.5 million - came with strings attached. The board would get it from the Orange County Transportation Authority if the state also committed at least that much money for engineering and environmental work on the line between Anaheim and Los Angeles.

An Assembly subcommittee is scheduled to consider the board's budget on Wednesday. Any differences between the two houses would be ironed out in a two-house conference committee.

The ultimate decision on the board's budget will be up to Schwarzenegger, who can reduce any appropriations authorized by lawmakers.

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