2015 CA State Budget: for Transportation, More of the Same

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget
California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget

Governor Jerry Brown released his preliminary budget proposal [PDF] today in Sacramento, missing the opportunity to articulate the connection between spending on roads and meeting the climate change goals he proposed Monday in his inaugural speech.

The draft budget holds no huge surprises for sustainable transportation advocates. It mostly follows last year’s budget for transportation spending. Brown made no move to change the allocations of cap-and-trade funds, which include a 25 percent for high-speed rail, with the rest of the expected $1 billion going to other projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The budget mentions the $350 million for last year’s Active Transportation Program, but makes no mention of increasing that amount.

At the press conference, Brown highlighted funding for road maintenance and repair, but failed to connect spending on roads with his stated goal of reducing fuel consumption by 50 percent over the next fifteen years. That goal won’t be easy to reach, and will take more than high-speed rail and electric cars.

“Getting people biking and walking is a critical part of that effort,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the National Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “Yet the Active Transportation Program is only one percent of the budget—less if you include cap-and-trade money,” which the governor’s office expects to add another $1 billion to next year’s budget.

“Yes, we have unfunded highway maintenance needs,” she added, “but as long as we keep building highways, we always will. We need to focus on shifting people to other modes.”

Instead Brown emphasizes high-speed rail as his main solution for reducing fuel consumption. His budget lists HSR among “healthy transportation alternatives,” alongside transit and walkable and bikable communities, that will receive half of cap-and-trade revenue.

But high-speed rail won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions any time soon, and the amount of money allocated to it dwarfs the Active Transportation Program, which has the potential to increase the number of people who choose bikes and walking.

State sustainable transportation advocates are cautiously optimistic about the preliminary budget, at least in its summary form. “This budget shows that we can solve our climate problems while lifting up our most vulnerable communities,” according to a statement by Josh Stark of TransForm.

Brown refused to discuss details about what funding for infrastructure repair and maintenance might look like or where it might come from, saying, “I’m identifying the problem, I have a team working on infrastructure, and we’ll start engaging constituency groups and exploring what avenues of funding are available. I’m not going to preempt the discussions by predetermining what the outcome is.”

There will be plenty of discussions on the budget between now and the May revision. Meanwhile, with a new session, new legislators, and shifting committee memberships as well as staff assignments throughout the state capitol, there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment about how policy and funding will be shaped in the coming months.

For example, the new chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee is Jim Frazier, a Democrat from a town on the Sacramento River Delta. He was one of the legislators who signed a letter last July asking the Air Resources Board to exempt gas distributors from the cap-and-trade program, so it remains to be seen whether his interests will lean towards livability–or elsewhere.

The governor’s main emphasis during the budget presentation was the need for fiscal responsibility. “Our long-term fiscal health depends on wise and prudent decisions,” he said. Despite recent reports of rising revenues, he maintained that California will face difficult budget decisions in coming years. “Steady as you go—that’s what I’m aiming for,” he said.

  • Derek Hofmann

    ‘Yes, we have unfunded highway maintenance needs,’ she added, ‘but as long as we keep building highways, we always will.’

    Has anyone suggested placing a moratorium on new highway construction until we can afford to maintain what we have?

    But high-speed rail won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions any time soon

    By itself, it never will. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to reduce fossil fuel usage, not just increase alternatives.

  • allisondan

    Yes, a number of people have suggested #NoNewRoads. See, as one example, Strong Towns No New Roads.

  • Fakey McFakename

    I’m not sure Brown’s wrong. He seems to envision a major state role in intercity mobility, with local mobility being more a municipal responsibility (with a few state grants to provide seed money and encourage municipalities to follow good practices). That seems to make sense to me, though I wish Brown would support changing the sales tax so it applies to intangible services as well as tangible goods (which would massively increase receipts from local transit sales taxes).

  • BC

    “Has anyone suggested placing a moratorium on new highway construction until we can afford to maintain what we have?”
    Here’s the same idea from over 20 years ago.

    http://www.culturechange.org/apm_page.htm

  • Heres a counterpoint: Its always cheaper to do maintenance now then defer it and then essentially have to rip out and rebuild in the future. Brown is right that ramping up funding on maintenance of highways now is a good thing because it means more money available in the future.

  • bikecar101.com

    High Speed Rail is going to have a small reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted if the ridership is not present (at the expense of cars on the freeways and roads). Additionally, there needs to be a stronger ridership within Southern California on the light rail system (Metrolink Train) to impact (reduce) emissions and climate change.

    One solution to the ridership issue and the emission of greenhouse gases is to incorporate more bicycle infrastructure on each Metrolink train to encourage ‘blended commuting’ (bicycle + light rail). Specifically, incorporating a ‘dedicated bicycle rail car’ on every Metrolink Train. This solution alone would have multiple effects:

    1) Meet the increasing demand of bicycle commuters on the Metrolink Train system.

    2) Encourage more commuters to incorporate a bicycle into their commute.

    3) Reduce wear and tear on the roads (bicycles are less harsh on local roads).

    4) Promote health and wellness by a reduction in obesity rates (which can lead to deadly cardiovascular disease along with other diseases taxing our healthcare system) and a reduction of the stress associated with sitting in traffic on freeways and roads.

    5) Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (by a reduction in excessive weight carried by passengers) by removing cars off of the roads.

    According to the ‘bullet train proposal,’ the state of California will grow in the next 30 years by the current population of the state of New York. Where is all the space needed to accommodate all of the additional cars? How will that impact greenhouse gas emissions (and the current daily US oil dependency of 800 million gallons)? By encouraging an increase in commuting via a blended system, a change in the mindset will start to take place in adults which will eventually (by example) trickle down to future generations (younger people). The result of which will reduce our dependency on cars along with a reduction in traffic congestion while improving the environment and health of our citizens.

    We encourage each resident of this great state to start to advocate for increased bicycle infrastructure at all levels of city/state planning. For more information, see the PowerPoint presentation on our website. Our politicians and urban planners along with transportation officials should be encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle. One such way is to incorporate a bicycle into your lifestyle (from locally sourcing your food at Farmer’s Markets with ‘saddle bags’ on bicycles, to commuting to and from work via blended commuting). Boost your endurance and improve the quality of your life–get out of your car! Thank you for the article.

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