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Plan To Kill California High-Speed Rail Project Clears 1st Hurdle To Landing On Ballot

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) - Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday that backers of a plan to end the California high-speed rail project had the green light to begin collecting signatures in an effort to get an initiative on the ballot.

According to Bowen's office, the measure "Prevents the issuance and sale of the remaining amount of high-speed rail bonds previously approved by the voters to initiate construction of a high-speed rail system. Authorizes the Legislature to redirect any unspent high-speed rail bond proceeds away from high-speed rail purposes, to repay outstanding high-speed rail bonds. Prevents state from incurring additional debt, spending any federal, state, or local funds, or entering into new contracts for the high-speed rail project."

Proponents of the measure, which was submitted by Republican Ventura County State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, now have 150 days to circulate their petition. They will need 504,760 valid signatures, which equates to five percent of the 2010 gubernatorial election total, to get the issue on the November ballot.

The $68 billion project has faced a number of hurdles, including funding. Two court rulings last year clouded the financial future of the system. One of those prevented the state from selling $8.6 billion in bonds that it had intended to use to pay its share of the project. The federal government has awarded $3.5 billion in grants to the project, including $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money, which requires a dollar-for-dollar match and must be spent by 2017.

Support for the plan has also been slipping among prominent democrats. Last month, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, once a strong supporter of California's high-speed rail project, told a conservative radio show hot that he no longer backs the bullet train and would like to see the money diverted to other projects.

That slip in support appears to be mirrored statewide, where a poll last fall revealed that the majority of California voters are now against the project.

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