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.)

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