Cal Transit Association on State Budget: Armageddon Is Here

Yesterday, transit advocates from around the state strove to grapple with the new reality that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature's "compromise" on the state budget completely abolished the State Transit Assistance (STA) and the $536 million that it dedicated to subsidizing transit operations.

There are multiple villains in this story, but the blackest hat is reserved for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  While the governor was out-in-front supporting a glitzy high speed rail line to connect San Francisco to San Diego last November; this budget will cause major fare hikes and service reductions from around the state.  As Joshua Shaw, executive director of the California Transit Association notes in a press release:

We will see fare increases. We will see service cuts. We will see layoffs.  I can say that with certainty simply because we’ve already seen those things happening even before the state apparently decided to abandon its responsibility to fund public transportation.

Of course, the Governor couldn't slash transit funds without the support of the state legislature.   While the League of California Environmental Voters, Environmental Defense and the National Resources Defense Council placed the blame at the feet of a "radical minority" of Republicans who used the state's super-majority requirement for any budget to effectively stall democratic efforts, other transit groups blamed the Democratic majority for not not holding firm on protecting the environment. 

In the short term, readers should call their legislators and demand that transit funding be restored to the budget.  In the long term, the environmental groups want to change the super-majority law so that a small group of legislators can't hijack the entire budget process.

So what does this mean locally?  While Metro promised that there would be no fare hikes in the next fiscal year and their proposed service adjustments and cuts are modest compared to previous years; their current budget is balanced assuming that the agency would receive $227 million in operating assistance from the STA.  Last year, the MTA proposed cuts to 20 service lines in a move that was universally panned by advocates, the local press, and even Mayor Villaraigosa as "draconian."  Those cuts were proposed to close a $100 million dollar funding gap, less than half of what Metro will lose if the state eliminates the STA as currently planned.  While the Mayor and the rest of the Metro Board were able to hold off on the service cuts last year, the serious cuts the proposed cuts could seem small compared to what is coming.

In short, advocates rallying to save proposed cuts on lines such as Northeast LA's "Line to Everywhere," are facing a much steeper hill today than they were earlier in the week.  While the full scope of how Metro will deal with a nearly quarter billion hole in its operations budget isn't yet known, it's almost certain that the cuts they proposed before Schwarzenegger's irresponsible budgetdeal will be made and that more cuts could be coming.

If Metro wishes to reprogram more Measure R funds to help them fill the funding hole, they would need to go back to the voters to move funds.  One of the ways Metro received such high support for their proposed transit tax was to make sure that these funds couldn't be reprogrammed without another public vote.

With the state officially abandoning any role in funding transit, at least one person must be smiling today.  Former State Senator Tom McClintock, who finished well behind Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election, ran partially as an advocate of greater highway and reduced transit spending.  Meanwhile, the victorious Schwarzenegger claimed to be a champion in the battle against Greenhouse Gas and Global Warming as he cruised to victory.  I guess the joke is on any environmentalist who voted for Schwarzenegger as McClintock's dream of a state that turns its back on public transit has become a reality.