By Nannette Miranda
SACRAMENTO, CA - The California High Speed Rail Authority extended the contracts of two consulting firms, totaling nearly $50 million.
Project leaders said the extensions were needed because of delays, and that the new expense was anticipated and budgeted according to guidelines approved by voters under Proposition 1A.
High Speed Rail's Rob Wilcox said the project is still at the $68 billion total price tag.
"Because we're spending dollars, that doesn't mean it's an increased cost," Wilcox said. "It's already an approved expenditure with budget, within Prop 1A."
The consultants will navigate the project through state and federal bureaucracies.
"These are key to environmental clearances and moving the project forward," Wilcox said.
Taxpayer groups are livid because millions have already been spent on a project that has yet to break ground.
"It just seems very ironic," Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association's Jon Coupal said. "They're having to spend tens of millions of dollars to hire consultants for the purpose of getting over bureaucratic hurdles."
Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Legislature to approve another $5 million for the rail authority to hire 44 new positions, more office space and about $800,000 in raises for existing staff. The pay bump would need to be approved by the state personnel department.
Some members of the public tried to voice their opinions on the rail project, but for the second meeting in a row, the teleconference system didn't work.
"If the High Speed Rail Authority cannot conquer the technology of a conference call, what makes you think they're prepared to build the world's most sophisticated rail system?" Coupal said.
"We're to make sure that we correct those problems going forward," Wilcox said.