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transit people: this is war

By enelson
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007 at 12:50 pm in Buses, driving, Environment, Freeway collapse, Freeways, Funding, Misc. Transportation, Safety, Transit vs. driving.

It seemed sad to see that of all of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget crisis solutions, the biggest was siphoning money from public transit to other programs that involved wheels and moving people around. I mean, that’s the only raidable fund we have left?

I wasn’t that excited about it, however, because it was more of the same story that broke with the first incarnation of the budget in January. There’s a big pot of gasoline sales tax money that, thanks to then-governor Ronald Reagan, is perpetually earmarked for public transportation whenever gasoline sales tax receipts outpace sales taxes on other goods.

The problem is that like any big pot of money that’s available when other revenues are down, like taxes on lackluster home sales, it’s a convenient piggy bank to smash.

But transit supporters, who, like me, were expecting this, were at the ready, guns cocked for the moment that Schwarzenegger’s May Revise budget was released yesterday. (Note to faithful readers: I was about to blog on this yesterday, but for some reason I kept getting an error message from blog facilitator WordPress.)

Even before the release, the California Transit Association had set up a new conference with Assemblyman Mike Feuer of West Hollywood, who chairs the budget subcommittee that deals with transportation.

Their statement came out soon after the new budget numbers were announced, starting with an opening salvo from the group’s executive director, Joshua Shaw:

 The governor’s proposals balance a disproportionate amount of the State’s budget shortfall solutions on the back of the millions of Californians who rely on transit, particularly the elderly, disabled, working class and school children.

It went on, helpfully, to offer the association’s explanation of what the budget proposes to do (not an easy feat):

Specifically, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget proposes to divert more than $1.3 billion from the Public Transportation Account (PTA) to pay for other General Fund obligations. The PTA is the main source of state transit funding, and supports a variety of state, regional and local public transit expenditure programs, including operations funding and capital investments. 

The new expenditures that would have to be born by the PTA with existing resources are:

$144 million in costs for shuttle programs serving developmentally disabled clients of regional centers. One-time shift.

$340 million in transportation-related general obligation bond debt service (Propositions 108, 116, and 192). One-time shift.

$827 million in costs for home-to-school transportation. This is a proposed permanent shift and ongoing PTA obligation.

“On an annual basis, public transit vehicles carry millions of Californians, providing about 1.4 billion passenger trips annually,” stated Chester Moland, CEO of the Golden Empire Transit District and chair of the California Transit Association.

“This diversion of funds is the equivalent to cutting most or all transit operations in San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Francisco, Contra Costa, and El Dorado Counties and the cities of Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Stockton combined. How does the Governor propose we get transit services to the thousands of people who have no other means of getting to work, school, medical appointments or even the grocery store?”

CalPIRG also sent out press releases slamming the transit cuts, arguing this is the wrong point in history to strangle public transportation:

Even if public transit was not subject to budget cuts, we still wouldn’t be investing enough to keep up with our growing population and commitment to reduce global warming pollution. …

We shouldn’t have to fight defensive battles against transit. We should be creating a world-class transit system to build clean, safe, and efficient alternatives to congested highways and polluting automobiles. In the midst of these fights over arcane numbers, we can easily lose sight of the bigger vision for our transportation needs.

And no one has articulated those needs better than the Schwarzenegger himself, who has criss-crossed the globe talking about how important it is to fight global warming.

In the gov’s own press releases, allocating money for transportation took top billing, oddly enough. But that money is from another source that doesn’t go away in tough budget years: The $19.9 billion Proposition 1B bond money voters approved in November.

The problem for transit advocates is that that bond money will only pay for capital improvements, like new rail lines or new buses, but the money the governor is cutting will be needed to pay the drivers of those lines and the fuel for those buses.

The thing that I keep coming back to, beyond the Middle Eastern oil and global warming, is the MacArthur Maze collapse showing the value of a decent public transit system to the state and the nation.

If you have such a system, as the Bay Area does, you can cope with such emergencies. Undermine that system, as BART insists the new budget would do, and you make the transportation network more vulnerable to failure.

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