The relatively sensible behavior of Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers during the recent legislative session might have been a light at the end of the tunnel for Californians long skeptical about their leaders. Or the light might have been an oncoming train.
Yes, that's an old joke. But this is an old subject: the way state leaders, pretty responsible with the taxpayers' money lately, continue to subvert the public's will when it comes to the $68 billion bullet train.
The latest example is rail officials' insistence they would not be defying voter-mandated financial restrictions if they used $3 billion in federal tax funding instead of state money to build the first segment of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco-area route.
A legal feint like this is not the way to reverse growing public opposition to the bullet train, which found 52 percent in a September poll saying the project should be stopped and 70 percent wanting a new referendum.
When voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008, approving nearly $10 million in bond money to start construction, the price tag was smaller, the timeline for building it was shorter, the route was longer and the trip quicker, expected ticket prices were lower and projected ridership higher. No one foresaw a recession would dry up public and private funding. And legal and environmental obstacles were less tangible.
The biggest legal hurdle now is a Sacramento judge's ruling that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has defied the 2008 initiative's requirement that all state funding sources be identified first, designed to ensure the money doesn't run out before the train starts producing its own revenue. State lawyers think they've found an way around that. It's trickery.
State leaders deserve more cheers than boos for their performance in making laws this year. Gov. Brown forged compromises and used vetoes that reined in the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate and Assembly. Californians should be encouraged that the election reforms of recent years are having a moderating effect on state politics.
But when the cheers die down, state residents should tell Brown that the bullet train project as presently proposed is unacceptable. The courts must stop it, and if they can't, the electorate must get another say. What state leaders are pushing is not what voters wanted.