High Court Rejects Appeal of Ruling Declaring Transit Fund Raids Illegal

397376904_5262ecc965.jpgMuni has lost $180 million over three years because of PTA fund raids. Flickr photo: skew-t
In what the California Transit Association called a resounding victory for transit providers and riders, the California Supreme Court has rejected Governor Schwarzenegger's appeal of a lower court ruling declaring raids on transit funds illegal.

"The Supreme Court has affirmed once and for all what we always maintained was true: that it's illegal to shift dedicated state transit funds away from transit agencies and their riders," said Joshua Shaw, Executive Director of the CTA. "This decision validates our position that this practice has been illegal since even before 2007, and that the definition of mass transportation adopted by lawmakers since then to mask these diversions is illegal."

As we've written, the governor has repeatedly raided the Public Transportation Assistance (PTA) fund while in office, to the tune of $1.19 billion in 2007-08 alone, while touting himself as a green governor who's leading the fight against global warming. Had Schwarzenegger not touched the fund, the MTA would have received nearly $180 million over the last three years, BART would have gotten $30 million last year, and AC Transit upwards of $26 million in 2008.

Said MTA Chief Nat Ford: "California has made a strong commitment to be in the forefront of environmental leadership, and properly funding public transportation is crucial to building a sustainable future. The state Supreme Court's decision should help transit agencies like the SFMTA better serve existing customers and make our services more attractive to Californians who are looking for ways to make healthier, more environmentally-friendly transportation choices."

The CTA, in partnership with other transit agencies, said it now hopes to work with the Schwarzenegger administration and the Legislature to restore the funds.

"We're very hopeful that the high court's decision will now enable us to work with lawmakers to restore these funds and help us to meet the ever-increasing demands for transit services in California," said Michael Burns, the general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the governor's Department of Finance, said he was disappointed with the ruling but that it is the end of the legal road. He said the issue will go back to the lower court to "determine a remedy" and added "there will be no hard and fast ruling." Palmer said it will likely mean "we'll have to figure out how to come up with an additional billion dollars in budget solutions by the end of the year." 

It's unclear how soon transit agencies could see the funds replenished. The CTA's Shaw was quoted in the Mercury News as saying it's possible the repayment could be spread out over several years.