Advocates Launch Effort to Restore State Transit Funding

_05527C8D_2D7C_4666_985D_49E8205532BC_.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has told advocates he wants to help find a state transit funding solution.

California
transit advocates have begun organizing a strategy to move legislation
through Sacramento that would dedicate a steady, long-term state
revenue source for public transit and prevent future budget writers
from raiding it.

"We need to come up with the ideas quite quickly," said Nick Caston, the state transportation advocate for TransForm. "We’re hoping we’ll be able to utilize the committee system to get hearings to delve into the structural issues."

Since
1971, under Governor Ronald Reagan, the State Transportation Assistance
(STA) fund has been the only state funding source for transit
operations in California. But in the last two years, as we’ve reported,
Governor Schwarzenegger, who touts himself as a "leader" in the fight
against global warming, and the Legislature have diverted $3 billion to
the general fund at a time when transit ridership is soaring.

This
year’s prolonged budget process was painful, no doubt, but what emerged
from the secret "Big Five" meetings, and what the governor is signing
today, is a budget that eliminates all transit funding until 2013.

What does it mean regionally? Fare hikes and service cuts.

Muni
should have gotten $68 million this year. The agency is losing $25
million this year and $43 million next year from out budgeted operating
dollars, said MTA spokesman Judson True. The loss could slow the
implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) because the
agency will have to scale back awarding some service contracts. Some
other California transit agencies are worse off, with some dramatic
cuts in service on the table.

Transit
advocates note, however, that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell
Steinberg (D-Sacramento) gets it, and he’s privately pledged to work
with advocates on finding a long-term budget solution for transit. Said
Jeff Wagner of the California Transit Association:

We’ve never considered Darrell
Steinberg to be a card-carrying member of the Kill Transit Caucus.
We’re obviously very upset that the Legislature has resorted to
completely eliminating transit operations funding as a means to help solve this
state budget crisis.  But, aside from this situation, Darrell Steinberg understands the
dire circumstances faced by transit providers. He understands the value of
public transit – and we know he’s not alone among legislators in
that regard.  We’re cautiously optimistic based on his personal
assurance to work with us to establish a reliable source of state funding for
day-to-day public transit operations.

One
idea that’s emerging is to roll transit money into the distribution of
Proposition 42 funds, the gas sales tax, said Caston. Other potentials
include drawing revenue from climate or gas fees (since a proposed gas
tax was nixed by the "Big Five").

Caston said
advocates are hoping to unite with labor, public health, environmental,
business and community groups to rally around public transit. The
California Transit Association, meantime, is gearing up for its annual Transit Lobby Day and encouraging its membership to show up in force for appointments with all 120 state legislators.

  • One bit of leverage would be the threat of a firewall initiative a la Prop 98 to protect Prop 42 funds etc. The voters have been very supportive of transportation and I bet the poll numbers will drive the electeds to work a deal. Also given the greenhouse gas reduction mandates of AB 32 transit funding is essential to achieve any meaningful mode shift to meet those goals.

  • I really don’t like ballot box budgeting, but until Prop. 13 and Prop. 98 and the other measures are repealed, I don’t see why transit advocates shouldn’t seek a firewall as well.

  • John Tellez

    I don’t know who Dan Wentzel is, but I do know this: if anyone attempts to repeal Proposition 13 provisions of the property tax, they will be met with the wrath and combativeness of the people, the likes of which the transportation lobby has never been able to muster. I have been a transit advocate for 40-plus years, but I am also a home owner who intends to reside in my house long after I retire. I don’t intend to be like my relativeS in the State of Washington, who have no property tax relief, and will have to sell there home because of their fixed income status. The property taxes have exceeded their ability to pay. LEAVE PROP 13 ALONE!

  • This is what transit gets for being akin to welfare for people without cars – it gets treated like a special “extra” service that politicians can cut into with no political worries.

    Our economy is so dependent on cars, consumerism, and profligate waste that transit would have to be waaaay more inefficient to get politicians attention.

    They can destroy transit, and what will happen? Oh, but the gas (the gas tax!) God Forbids Us To Mess With the Gas Tax!

    Transit advocates should wake up – you need to be more anti-car. Auto entitlements are starving the movement of our society away from fossil fuel over-use.

  • angle

    Unfortunately, coming out as “anti-car” is the same as declaring oneself a counter-cultural zealot, a socialist hippie freak and an enemy of The American Way. I’m afraid that until a significant percentage of “ordinary” citizens can not afford to drive their cars every day, we won’t see any comprehensive plans implemented that would represent a viable alternative to private automobiles.

    This change might happen in 20 years or it might happen in 2010—impossible to say for sure—but when it comes I think it’s unlikely that there will be any funds left to complete the subway system or build a solar-powered bus fleet. Those of us who are qualified should be ready to help our neighbors refurbish old ten-speeds and show them how to use a U-lock properly, because recycled bicycles will become the new “people’s car”.

  • angle,

    Great, I’ll meet you at the corner of Defeatism and I Give Up St. and we’ll eat mud together.

    So, you’ve mapped out a way for your ideals to fail. Congrats. Any chance you’ve got a path towards your ideals coming to fruition? I do, and it partially rests on an anti-car/pro-transit point of view.

    There is a politics of transportation, and like any set of political circumstances, it can be manipulated and coerced in one direction or another regardless of what has come before.

  • Poltics requires strategy. Becoming “anti-car” is a strategy that I claim is doomed to failure. . . depending on what you mean by becoming more “anti-car”.

    Now, that’s not to say that we can’t accomplish the goals that Umberto is espousing, I just think we can do it with less of a “cars are evil” tone to it.

    Example:
    Try telling people who live in areas with poor bus service and who live over 30 miles from their work because of housing costs that they should feel bad for using their cars, and see how many votes you get from them for a gas tax increase.

    On the other hand, if you appeal to the conservative side’s “if you want it, YOU pay for it” mentality, you might actually be able to convince them that, since gas-taxes currently don’t nearly support the amount of funding to maintain the roads they drive on, they should consider increasing the tax in the interest of fairness. If they refuse, you are then free to accuse them of accepting handouts and “welfare” from society, because they are using roads and services that they are apparently unwilling to pay for. Accuse a conservative of a vice that they are used to applying to liberals, and you have suddenly got their attention.

    That’s not being “anti-car”, it’s appealing to civic fairness and capitalism. It’s capitalism in the sense that it supports the ideal that those who work hard and earn enough to pay for and enjoy a luxury should be free to do so.

    Cars are tools, not demons. It’s not the car that should be attacked, it is the balance of funding that supports its use.

  • David,

    That is what I am getting at.

    Automobiles are simply one means of getting people around, they have their benefits but cars also have their costs – and those costs are (in fact) enormous.

    The costs of the automobile transportation network starves all other modes.

    The focus of transit advocacy would be more effective, I feel, if righting this imbalance became a top priority. The first thing that would happen, if this were effective, would be a drastic reduction in the total amount needed to fund “transportation” – as highways consume massive amounts of money and do not provide nearly as efficient (energy-wise and capital-wise) a system of moving people.

    There is a politics of this stuff, and throwing up your hands and saying, “But the people want cars!” is absurd. Prior to the interstate highway system, and federal entitlements for suburban living, not nearly so many did.

  • Fair enough. . . I suppose we’re really not disagreeing about much then.

    I agree that the formula needs to shift so that more money be spent on public transit and bicycle infrastructure, and so that the revenue from gas tax and parking fees actually covers the cost of maintaining the roads.

    I just want it to be clear that I think it’s completely impractical for most people to give up their cars. People will need to drive sometimes, even if they use transit and bikes for their daily commutes. I look forward to using transit and/or bike for every trip I make for which those modes are practical, but when the time-cost is too high, I drive. That mindset should fit fine into a world where gas taxes are higher and parking cost revenue is high enough to cover its own costs and possibly some of the transit infrastructure costs as well.

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