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.

  • In what way was Schwarzenegger “out in front” of CAHSR/Prop 1A? He barred it from the ballot in 2004 and 2006 and gave it a tepid endorsement this year, without campaigning one way or the other.

    That man has never supported transit or rail investment of any kind. He’s been using the operating budgets of local transit agencies as piggy banks for years.

    Blackest hat indeed! Under Schwarzenegger’s misrule, those of us who rely on transit have suffered a great deal.

  • I did say, “last November.”

    My point was that people shouldn’t look at the Governor’s support for HSR as indicative as transit friendliness, not to imply that there’s anything wrong with HSR.

  • Good Lord, how depressing…

  • In December BusTard talked about this:

    http://www.thebusbench.com/2008/12/measure-r-replaces-newly-raped-transit-funds.html

    I knew this was going to happen. This is the exact same thing that happened with the lottery dollars for the schools.

    I’m still glad I voted for Measure R. I think the many new people in LA should see exactly how this place has run and don’t let them fool you with well we’re in La Crisis so blah, blah, blah…this would have happened anyway.

    Browne

  • Wow.

    Um, “transit advocates”, do think that a better political strategy is in order?

  • Michael Scott

    I too am saddened by the loss of transit funding as I am a huge advocate of reducing our dependency on automobiles. However let’s not take shots at the Governor. Let’s face it… he is in a no-win situation. The real problem with California is that these various advocacy groups see their own individual causes as being front and center with no objective acknowledgment of the big picture realities.

    Whether we’re talking about transit advocates, highway infrastructure advocates, health care advocates, water advocates, prison advocates, school advocates, or (you name your type of California advocate), everyone is crying wolf about what Arnie and the legislature is doing to their pet causes. Instead of whining, maybe these groups (Cal Transit Association included) could explore some alternative solutions that better reflect the realities of our times.

  • The Governor is not in a “no-win situation.” He is largely responsible for the current impasse, not a victim of it. His total failure of leadership led to this situation, and his original campaign promises and platform were designed to appeal to those very voters who were frustrated with the difficulties of the state budget under Davis.

    Under Arnold, it has gotten much worse, and he never once offered any real solutions. In reality, he has consistently mugged in front of the foreign press as the “green” governor while at the same time cutting every real environmental program in the state, and supporting “fake” green initiatives like the “hydrogen Highway.”

    I am no expert on this stuff, but I think it would take nothing less than a new State Constitution to fix this mess.

  • I’m sort of with Bert Green on this. I do think that the Governor made several honest, if naive, stabs at trying to change some of the structural problems with California’s state government and was soundly defeated each time he tried.

    With respect to transportation, I think it is sad that automobile entitlements are still considered the equal of other transportation projects. We’re so tied to auto-based consumption that our politicians are terrified of ending that economic system.

    If we let our roads go to crap, and instead funded more energy efficient modes of travel, our economy would be less energy- and capital-intensive. We’d lower the amount of money we need to spend to move labor and goods, and we’d be more resilient in the long run to energy price shocks.

    It would suck in the short term (but hey, so does what we have now!), but I think that focusing on this level of analysis and forming a strategy around it would ultimately prove successful for transit and other statewide reforms.

    I also think term limits at the state level need to go, or be lengthened. Nobody in Sacramento can build a meaningful legacy of work, because they’re gone after a few sessions in the legislature. It is hard to fight a long term battle without a long-term legislative leadership.

  • I haven’t been living in California for very long, its been approximately 5 months now, and what I’ve mostly noticed is that transit agencies have a tendency to struggle against one another for funds and provide similar services which ultimately steals each others clientele. For instance, in northern California, there is a plan for the AC Transit (East Bay Bus System) to provide a new rapid system, which would provide transportation along a major arterial, however at the same time, the BART (Bay Area Retional Transit, Subway) already provides this service. So the question is why would these two transit agencies attempt to provide the same services?

    There has to be a serious lack of planning, because to me that is just blatant government waste.

    Now as for the recent budget talks to cut out transit, I believe this would be quite a shame. I would much prefer to see a reduction in landscaping services along streets, or to not allow government employees to take home their city vehicles than to increase the cost of public transportation that many rely on. It’s a shame. Diane Feinstein will be hearing from me.

  • The proper people to blame would be the state legislature, specifically the Republicans who won’t vote for the budget, and you, the voter, for turning down Proposition 56 in 2004, which would have lowered the percentage to pass a budget to 55% and eliminated this mess completely. I don’t think Feinstein would have much to do with this.

    As far as AC Transit Rapid Bus 1R (International Rapid) – BART and AC Transit provide two completely different services that complement rather than duplicate each other. BART makes six stops between Oakland City Center and Bayfair, while the Rapid Bus makes 23. BART charges a fare more commensurate with commuter rail, and has no monthly pass. AC Transit charges a local bus fare and has monthly passes. Totally different services.

  • Henry Spencer

    This duplicitous Governor is squarely to blame. When he signed AB 32 he was sitting in front of zero emission public transit bus, and he was raiding transit funds. When he was on the cover of Outside and numerous other magazines as the Green Governor, he continued to raid transit funds. The decission to zero out transit funding is not the result of the current fiscal crisis but the result of his administration’s long term goal to kill public transit. They think it is a local service that provides no state benefit. Whether you use public transit or not, you benefit from public transit. The highway system would fail if were not for the capcity added by public transit.

    If you truely care about globl warming, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions, it is time for all the so called environmental groups to stand up say the emporior has no clothes, because this Governor cares only about headlines not good policy.

  • Anon.

    Folks, next time pass a *constitutional amendment* dedicating *all* taxes and fees of any sort on any fuels to mass transit, defining it as “transportation available to the general public”, and prohibiting any alteration by the legislature. You’ve got to bulletproof your initiatives before you pass them, since the legislature is a bunch of sneaky crooks.