Jay Solmonson – STAFF
Tomorrow the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Administration Committee will very likely approve a plan that will extend this summer’s smog-day free transit program. They can do this thanks to high fuel prices, which increased gasoline sales tax receipts much more than sales tax for everything else.
Whenever that happens, state law says the surplus should go not to enrich the state’s general fund, but to boost transit in the state. It doesn’t always work that way, but this year the governor and the legislature agreed to allow the gas tax “spillover” to trickle into the appropriate pockets, which meant a $37 million windfall for Bay Area buses, trains and ferries.
So we got lucky, this time. The Bay Area burned up all three Spare the Air Days in its $7.5 million budget, and now can add another three for another $6 million, with the Bay Area Air Quality Management district chipping in about $700,000 out of their old car buyback program.
If you’d read the story, you’d know of this already. But the author of this proposal, Contra Costa County Supervisor and MTC member Mark DeSaulnier, says he’d like to see Spare the Air Days run with private funding in the future.
And what better sponsor than one of the oil companies that keep our cars pumping the principal ingredients of smog?
DeSaulnier says he’s made some overtures to the business community, and so far, no one has either accepted or declined the invitation.
He says he envisions something like, “Today’s spare the air free transit brought to you by, you pick it, Chevron or Conoco or Shell.”
My editor suggested that the scheme would follow the same tradition as, “Ask R.J. Reynolds about keeping your kids from smoking” or “Promote responsible drinking at www.anheuser-busch.com
Still, the idea has potential, although DeSaulnier acknowledged that it’s too late to do anything that would revive the free transit program before smog season ends Oct. 10. So this year, Spare the Air Days will be brought to you by gasoline consumers up and down the state, each of them paying for a much larger increase in gas and its sales tax than they did on just about anything else.