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The state Assembly voted this afternoon to approve initial funding for California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, setting up a crucial vote in the Senate on Friday.

The bill passed by the Assembly includes $5.8 billion for construction in the Central Valley, as well as nearly $2 billion to improve regional rail systems in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and to connect them to high-speed rail.

The Assembly's approval, on a 51-27 vote, was widely expected. A much closer vote is expected in the Senate. It remains unclear if the project has enough votes in the upper house to proceed. Senators were debating the bill in committee this afternoon.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, urged lawmakers to recall the work of previous generations of Californians, who built the state water project and its highway and university systems.

"We have issues, in terms of budget problems," he said. "Does that mean that we stop looking to the future?"

Republicans argued the state does not have money to invest in rail.

Citing recent polling showing high-speed rail has become unpopular since voters approved it in 2008, Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, urged the Assembly to put the project back to a public vote.

"Let them help us prioritize what's important," Hagman said.



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