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what to do with $12.7 billion

By enelson
Friday, March 30th, 2007 at 4:19 pm in Bay Bridge, Caltrans, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), driving, Freeways, Funding, rail, Retrofitting, Safety, Transit vs. driving.

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I’ve pretty well covered what Gov. Schwarzenegger is doing with public transportation funding in next year’s (starting in July) state budget, so I won’t re-hash that here.

The question I’m going to nibble at, after enduring six hours of legislative budget subcommittee meetings this week, is what’s going on with the rest of the state’s normal transportation budget.

I’m not talking about the $20 billion Prop 1B transportation bond, which I’ve also spilt considerable ink over. That’s separate, or at least it was until the governor’s fiance people decided to snag $600 million of it to pad the annual public transportation budget, much to the dismay of transit backers who expect that money to be a bonus, not substitute for what would have been budgeted anyway.

So thumbing through Senate Budget Subcommittee No. 4′s Transportation Department narrative, I find that the proposed budget is $12.7 billion, a 14 percent increase over the current year, and adding 68 full-time jobs to a work force that is already nearly 21,700 strong.

That nearly $13 billion is split into five categories, the largest increase (18.7 percent) going to the biggest one, highways, which would gobble up $11.3 billion, or 89 percent of the transportation budget.

Now, before you public transit people start howling, one has to consider that an even higher percentage of travel in this state and elsewhere takes place on those roadways. In fact, a large percentage of our public transit needs roads to operate upon.

The distant second category is the much-debated public transportation category, which the administration budgeteers have cut by 21.5 percent to $873.9 million. They justify this by saying that this year, with $1.1 billion budgeted, was anomalous because of high gas sales taxes that weren’t swiped for other purposes in a fairly fat year.

OK, commence howling.

After that come the categories of administration, up 4.4 percent (don’t hold back, now) at $360.9 million, planning, down 9.1 percent at $179.5 million and aeronautics, up 2.3 percent at a proposed $8.7 million.

One of several changes that caught my eye was a $6.6 million increase in Caltrans’ contract with Amtrak. The national rail service operates inter-city rail routes, which are heavily used by commuters but not technically considered public transit. Amtrak drives the trains, collects tickets and staffs stations on the Pacific Surfliner between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, the San Joaquins from Bakersfield to Sacramento and to Oakland, and my personal favorite, the Capitol Corridor between Auburn, Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose.

The state has been paying Amtrak the same thing for five years, even as costs have gone up, so the extra money is a one-time payment while the two parties hash out a more permanent way to factor in cost increases. It sounds like a good idea, but my enthusiasm is tempered by the knowledge that the people who sell the hot dogs, playing cards and 375 milliliter bottles of Chardonnay on the trains make more money than I do.

On the local front, Caltrans has budgeted $62.3 million for seismic retrofit construction of its Oakland office building that serves as the headquarters for District 4, which serves the Bay Area and environs.

Much like some other notable earthquake-related projects that Caltrans has embarked upon, the lowest construction bid was somewhat higher than the $44.3 million the Legislature approved last year.

Unlike the Bay Bridge, which stood up well from its ribbon-cutting in 1936 until the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake revealed its profound weaknesses, the Caltrans building was built two years after that same earthquake and complied with all current building codes. It wasn’t until the 1994 Northridge quake that the codes were found wanting, along with Oakland’s regional Caltrans headquarters.

So, um, even if your building was built after the big quake here, it might not be as sound as you think it is. At least not if you’re expecting it to close enough for government work.

Now here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about the $20 billion Proposition 1B transportation bond, as laid out in the Senate “Sub 4″ committee handout:

While many past bond revenues have been continuously appropriated upon bond passage, Prop 1B funds require an appropriation by the Legislature to expend the funds.

The administration is requesting an appropriation level that will cover anticipated expenditures through (fiscal year) 2009-10. This means that the administration would not have to come forward with a Prop 1B appropriation request in either the 2008-09 or 2009-10 budgets.

So the bad news is that the legislature won’t have anything to say about the bond expenditures for three years after they approve them this year. The good news is that the legislature won’t have anything to say about the bond expenditures for three years after they approve them this year.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends that the senators and assembly members fix it so they can review the expenditures each year, just to be safe. That way, if things get screwy, the lawmakers can step in and correct them, right?

And on a very down-to-earth, where-the-rubber-meets-the-road level, the administration is asking that money for highway pavement preservation be permanently boosted $85 million to an annual total of $214 million. That will be enough to eliminate a current 10-year highway maintenance backlog.

With big chunks falling out of I-880 in Oakland, the proposal does not seem excessive to a lay commuter such as myself.

Schwarzenegger’s budget also looks for $9 million to top off its $26.9 million fuel budget. One transit backer at a legislative hearing this week noted this, pointing out that transit agencies also need more money to fuel their buses. That would be somewhat more difficult when the governor is asking that the one source of funding that’s tied to the price of fuel — the gasoline sales tax “spillover” — is to be stripped from public transit.

Perhaps the Legislature could recommend that Caltrans work crews take buses to their work sites to save fuel.

Graphic: Legislative Analyst’s Office

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