An editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times takes the Governor, the Democratic-controlled legislature, and pretty much everyone involved in the dramatic showdown in state government to task for their role in stripping transit funding in the proposed budgets that are floating around Sacramento. Sounding more like Kymberleigh Richards or Bart Reed than the flagship newspaper for the Car Culture Capital of America, the Times doesn’t pull punches as it breaks down the issue.
When democratic lawmakers presented their proposal for balancing the
state budget, there was one little thing they didn’t mention: It would
have all but eliminated funding for public transportation — not just
next year but in perpetuity.
The proposal was vetoed last week
by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.
Moreover, the governor’s plan is even worse for public transit; the
Democrats want to keep distributing about $150 million the state
receives from a tax on diesel fuel to transit agencies, while the
governor aims to get the state completely out of the business of
funding transit. The rush to jettison passenger rail and buses as the
state tries to cope with a severe budget crisis counters not only the
will of the voters, who have repeatedly demonstrated that they greatly
value public transit, but the state’s ongoing crusade to reduce its
traffic and pollution woes…
…So Democrats found a clever way around that rule: eliminate the gas
taxes, replace them with a user fee that’s 13 cents a gallon higher
than the current taxes, then raise sales and income taxes by an amount
equivalent to the old gas taxes. They can claim that they can raise
taxes with less than a two-thirds vote as long as they reduce other
taxes by an equal amount.
The problem with this shell game is
that user fees have strings attached: They can only be spent on things
that directly benefit those who pay the fee. So a gasoline fee could
only be spent on roads, highways and other systems used by drivers —
and not on public transit.
This is a pretty cynical move. Take funds people voted for transit projects and move things around to pay for the kinds of highway expansion projects that have been encouraging sprawl development, wrecking our air quality and making California a leader in Greenhouse Gas emissions. The Governor’s veto had nothing to do with the transit raid, he doesn’t exactly have a strong track record when it comes to defending transit, so if we want to make certain the state doesn’t choke transit to save highway funds, everyone needs to get in touch with their legislators now. For help, click here.