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Calif. bullet train project gets $29 million

(The Associated Press circulated the following by Steve Lawrence on April 6, 2009.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's financially strapped high-speed rail project has received an infusion of $29 million to get it back on track through the middle of the year.

Short-term borrowing by the state treasurer's office on Monday will provide the funding.

The state's high-speed rail board had been counting on getting the money to cover its expenses through June, the end of the state's current fiscal year.

But the state Pooled Money Investment Board froze funding for most infrastructure projects in December because of the state's budget crisis and delayed consideration of a loan for the high-speed rail board.

That led most of the private consultants who were performing engineering and environmental reviews to stop working because they weren't being paid, said Mehdi Morshed, the rail board's executive director.

He said the treasurer's decision to issue commercial paper to provide the $29 million was "excellent news."

"We're finally back to work again," he said.

Voters in November approved the sale of $9.9 billion in bonds to help pay for the first leg of an 800-mile high-speed rail system, which is designed to link California's biggest cities with trains running at up to 220 mph.

Those bonds haven't been sold yet, and the rail board was counting on getting a loan from the Pooled Money Investment Board to provide its budget for the second half of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, said sale of the commercial paper was a way to avoid tapping the Pooled Money Investment Account, which officials say will be needed to maintain other state programs in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The Legislature's chief budget adviser, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, predicted last month that the state will face an $8 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, despite a $42 billion package of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing that lawmakers approved in February.

Dresslar said the commercial paper issued Monday could be resold until it's paid off with money from state bond sales.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

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