State Budget: Higher Fees Won’t Lead to Better Transportation

For those of us awaiting our tax return from the State of California, the news from Sacramento concerning yesterday’s budget compromise comes as welcome news.  For just about everyone else, the news isn’t good.  That’s especially true for anyone that has a commute that isn’t either a pedestrian or cyclist.

You’re not going to catch me either crowing or complaining about the two major transportation taxes, a near doubling of the vehicle registration fee and a twelve cent increase in the state’s gas tax.  While a raise in either of these fees are overdue, it’s galling that despite a dramatic increase in transportation costs, there will be no increase in transportation services.  In fact, the state will be cutting $536 million in transit assistance, all of it would have gone towards operations and keeping fares as low as possible. 

Combined, these two fee increases will bring in $3 billion annually.  It’s too bad that neither the Governor or legislative negotiators were willing to increase either of those fees by just a little more to protect transit costs.  The California Transit Association warns the Times what could happen to agencies under this proposal:

Jeff Wagner, a spokesman for the California Transit Assn., warned that
such a big hit could mean fare hikes and service reductions. Transit
agencies, he said, have "been cut to the bone already."

Since it’s unlikely the governor would consider increasing the vehicle license fee, Schwarzenegger made a big show of cutting the vehicle license fee from 2 percent to .65 percent in his first act as governor, it is unlikely that he will allow an increase in the vehicle license fee beyond the proposed 1.15 percent increase.  However, if the government would increase the fee to 1.40 percent, it would provide enough new revenue to avoid the cuts in transit funding.  Similarly, another half cent increase in the fuel tax would accomplish the same level of revenue generation.  Dedicate those funds to transit and all of a sudden there’s no more need to cut transit operating funds.

It looks bad for a governor who claims to be obsessed with reducing greenhouse gas to habitually cut funding to transit.  For a relatively small cost, he could avoid having to do that altogether.

(Editor’s note:  A previous version of this story placed the transit
cut at $459 million, as reported by the Los Angels Times.  This new number
comes from T4America.)

  • “It looks bad for a governor who claims to be obsessed with reducing greenhouse gas to habitually cut funding to transit. For a relatively small cost, he could avoid having to do that altogether.”

    I think it is important to put our governor’s “concern” over greenhouse gases into context (and this goes for many other similarly “concerned” legislators as well):

    This “concern” extends to somehow reducing greenhouse gas emissions while, at the same time, maintaining our car-based, suburban, status quo. This is a political calculation that has kept substantive changes in our automobile/public transportation entitlement system from occurring.

    One reason why the Prius was so desperately embraced by our political elite, and our moneyed left-wing, is that it symbolically allows us to maintain the massive public underwriting for the suburban way of life (aka “The American Dream”, ca. 1950 – present).

    So the governor’s “concern” over green house gas is a symbolic issue – because there will be no fundamental shift in how we plan and fund our transportation systems until we’ve totally bankrupted ourselves building highways won’t be able to afford to maintain.

    I am a fan of totally de-funding auto transportation, and using the money from that to totally build out our sidewalks, bike capacity, bus system, and rail system. The roads are too expensive and there is no future in them. This is a radical, probably unreasonable, position – but from where I stand it makes sense.

  • Extremism is always unreasonable and radical, and dropping all funding for auto transportation is extremism.

    Should we stop funding to maintain California Highway 1? Planning to build a rail line that snakes along the coast through Big Sur?

    Intercity rail (HSR where appropriate) should be a national priority, I agree. But in some regions (much of the midwest, many parts of CA) the population density is not high enough to justify bus service that would be frequent enough to be useful to the people who live there.

    It all depends on where you are talking about. I think the realistic thing to do is to simply raise the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees. Let those who want to, and can afford to, live the suburban highway lifestyle pay for it. There’s no reason to simply abandon 50 years of infrastructure. Just shift the funding source to make it more balanced.


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