High-Speed Rail Construction Continues as California Sues Trump

California’s high-speed rail agency remains determined to complete about 119 miles of bullet-train construction in the central San Joaquin Valley, even as a confrontation with the Trump administration over promised federal funds escalates into a lawsuit.

“We are looking for a ramp-up in activity for construction,” said Tom Richards, vice chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, adding that he expects the pace of work to accelerate this summer. Richards, a Fresno businessman, said Tuesday at the agency board’s meeting in Sacramento that the state remains mindful of “the requirement to abide by all of the commitments we have” under a pair of federal grant agreements dating to 2010 and 2011 for about $3.5 billion to support engineering and construction in the Valley.

Tuesday’s board meeting came on the heels of California filing suit challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s termination of the grant agreements. …

Click here to read the full article from the Fresno Bee

California lawmakers weigh budget proposals to cover health care for illegal immigrants

California lawmakers are weighing proposals this week that would offer government-funded health care to adult illegal immigrants but are at odds over how far to go.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $98 million a year to cover low-income illegal immigrants between the ages of 19 and 25, but the state Assembly’s bill would cover all illegal immigrants over the age of 19 living in California – a proposal that would cost an estimated $3.4 billion.

The state Senate, meanwhile, wants to cover adults ages 19 to 25, plus seniors 65 and older. That bill’s sponsor, Sen. Maria Elana Durazo, scoffed at cost concerns, noting the state has a projected $21.5 billion budget surplus.

Of the three million in California who don’t have health insurance, about 1.8 million are illegal immigrants, according to legislative staffers. Nearly half those have incomes low enough to qualify them for the Medi-Cal program. …

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Guns, gas and soda – most California tax proposals died at the Capitol, but a few remain

California lawmakers this year put forward new tax proposals that would have hit soda drinkers, bankers and gun owners  not to mention anyone with a car.

Most of those proposals died this week in a major culling of bills, leaving only a handful of tax measures in place.

Some of them died before they reached the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees, while others were pulled by their authors. The remaining were left to consideration on Thursday by the two checkpoint committees that decide which bills can move forward this legislative session. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Trump administration cancels $929 million in California high speed rail funds

The Trump administration said on Thursday it was formally cancelling $929 million in previously awarded funding for California’s high-speed rail program after rejecting an appeal by the state.

The U.S. railway regulator, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said on Thursday it had canceled the funding awarded in a 2010 agreement after it said the state had “repeatedly failed to comply” and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

In a statement, the FRA said it was still considering “all options” on seeking the return of $2.5 billion in federal funds the state has already received. …

Click here to read the full article from Reuters.com

Fire officials determine PG&E equipment sparked deadly California fire

As California fire investigators officially concluded that the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century was caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines, lawmakers expressed deep skepticism about whether the utility had made the dramatic changes needed to prevent another deadly blaze.

The company’s new chief executive, Bill Johnson, made his first appearance before lawmakers Wednesday, who peppered him with questions on his plan to lead the troubled utility.

“We shouldn’t have to be reliving this,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes. “We need to know what the lessons learned are.”

State fire officials said transmission lines owned and operated by the San Francisco-based utility started the Nov. 8 fire that wiped out nearly 15,000 homes in the town of Paradise. Many of those killed were elderly or disabled; the oldest was 99. …

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Tax revenue from legal pot sales falls short of projections in California

California’s projections of cannabis tax revenue are coming down from their original highs.

State budget documents released Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom slash the administration’s cannabis tax prediction by $223 million through 2020. Industry analysts said tax revenue from the newly legal weed business is lower than expected because of limited access to legal pot in parts of the state, the impact of taxes on price-sensitive consumers and the state’s entrenched black market.

By dropping its expectations of tax revenue, California is simply acknowledging those realities, said John Kagia with New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm.

“It is, I think, a pragmatic confession that the state still has a lot of work ahead,” he said. …

Click here to read the full article from USA Today

ICE slams California sanctuary policy after suspect in fatal crash leaves jail on bail

Federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement pushed back against California sanctuary state policies which came to a head over the weekend when alleged undocumented immigrant Ismael Huazo-Jardinez was arrested after three people were killed in a drunk driving incident in Knights Landing.

According to ICE spokesman Paul Prince, Huazo-Jardinez was released on bail from Sutter County Jail in Yuba City before ICE learned of the arrest and “before we could lodge a detainer to take him into ICE custody.”

Even if ICE filed a detainer, California law prohibits local law enforcement from honoring them. However, Yuba City’s city council voted against the sanctuary state law.

After Huazo-Jardinez left the jail on bail, deportation officers began surveillance on a previous known address of Huazo-Jardinez and he was taken into custody Tuesday without incident, Prince said. Huazo-Jardinez will remain in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

California audit finds thousands in improper state payments

A California Department of Transportation manager commuted some 450 miles (724 kilometers) to work — from San Diego to Sacramento — for two years and the state paid for it, according to an audit released Tuesday.

A state hospital administrator also racked up tens of thousands of dollars with long commutes and a prison administrator watched thousands of YouTube videos at work. Those were among the more egregious misuses of taxpayer money outlined in the report on improper activities by state agencies and employees.

The California state auditor said investigations completed between July and December of last year identified about $427,000 in inappropriate expenditures. It did not specifically identify any of the people involved in the improprieties.

Most of the agencies involved indicated that they had or intended to investigate the misuses and implement training and other reforms to prevent future violations. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press

$5 gas? California gas prices soar as national average approaches $3

Brace yourself, Californians.

The statewide average price of gasoline has soared over $4 per gallon in recent weeks – and now at least four stations there are charging more than $5, according to fuel-savings app GasBuddy.

That comes as the national average price of gas continues its customary spring climb as Memorial Day approaches.

The national average hit $2.90 on Friday, up 20 cents from a month ago and 8 cents more than a year ago, according to AAA.

California is a big reason for the spike in the national average. The state’s average price of $4.09 is up 44 cents from a month ago and 46 cents from a year ago, according to AAA. …

Click here to read the full article from USA Today

California Senate approves bill requiring presidential candidates to submit tax returns

California’s Senate approved a bill this week requiring presidential candidates to submit five years’ worth of tax returns in order to appear on the ballot, joining 18 other states in a jab at President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

California joins New York, Illinois and Washington, among other states, that have introduced bills requiring all candidates to release their individual tax returns to qualify for the presidential primary ballot. Tax returns have become a key 2020 issue, with Trump refusing to surrender them and Democratic presidential candidates sharing their tax information with varying degrees of timeliness.

The state’s Senate passed the measure by a 27-10 party line vote Thursday. The bill now goes to the state’s assembly for consideration. It’s not clear if California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, would sign the bill into law should it make it to his desk. …

Click here to read the full article from CNN