Troubling Silence on Transit in Gov’s State of the State Address

governator.jpgPhoto: Justin Short, Office of the Governor

Despite continued cash flow crunches facing nearly every transit operator in the state, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said absolutely nothing about transportation or fixing transit’s woes in his State of the State address today. Transit operators are still bracing for the expected budget proposal this Friday that would thwart the state Supreme Court’s ruling declaring the governor’s raids on transit funds to fill general fund coffers illegal.

The Governor’s proposal would eliminate the sales tax on gasoline and replace it with an excise tax, in the process eliminating an enormous transit funding mechanism and making it cheaper to drive.

In a state where nearly half of all CO2 pollution comes from private cars, and despite national trends toward fewer cars on the road, the governor said nothing about providing affordable and reliable transit options. Instead of supporting proven greener transportation, he quoted from a recent Time Magazine article heralding California’s innovative spirit in clean tech energy:

(California) is still a dream state. In fact, the pioneering megastate…is still the cutting edge of the American future — economically, environmentally, demographically, culturally, and maybe politically. It is the greenest and the most diverse state, the most globalized…when the world is heading in all those directions. It’s also an unparalleled engine of innovation, the mecca of high tech, biotech and now clean tech.

"The governor’s silence on transit in the State of the State highlights his lack of commitment to creating a robust economy in California that meets the vision of the governor’s proclaimed belief in the Green Economy," said Nick Caston of TransForm, a smart growth and transit advocacy organization. "The Governor’s rhetoric has in the past ignored his destructive policies taking transit services from our communities."

Incentives that make driving more desirable and cut into transit funding are a double whammy that imperils many of California’s new carbon-reduction and anti-sprawl legislation, said Erin Steva, transportation advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group.

"California already has the worst congestion in the country," she said. "California often has led the way on numerous issues, including climate change.  If we’re going to see through those improvements, it needs to include transit.  The leading cause of global warming emissions in this state is transportation and it is the segment that is growing most quickly." 

Rather than cut funding from more efficient modes, she said, "We need to put our money where our mouth is."

  • Clutch J

    While the governor’s proposal would eliminate gas sales tax funding for transit– which, owing to the budget crisis, has been hit-or-miss for years– he IS proposing what would be the first increase in the excise (per gallon) gas tax since the early 1990s.

    The Legislature should praise the Governor for seeking to increase the gas tax and counter-propose a much larger increase.

    Admittedly, this would not benefit transit agencies struggling to find operating moneys. But the big news here is that the Guv is proposing an increase in the gas tax.

  • patrick

    It is amazing how little people learn.

    Rome’s success was based on it’s roads. Transit is absolutely critical to our economy, whether it’s highway, bus or rail, and it’s being completely ignored. Tragic

  • When I read that France is giving €21 billion (US $29 billion) for urban electric rail transit development (see http://www.lightrailnow.org/news/n_newslog2009q4.htm#LRT_20091210 ), I wonder why the North American public transit gets crumbs.

  • @Clutch J, I was under the impression that in dropping the sales tax on gas and raising the exercise tax the overall amount per gallon would actually go down.

    @W.K. Lis, US public transit gets crumbs because the car has been our obsession since before WW2. We didn’t face the reality of the 70s gas crisis with reason, instead we forged on in our quest to never get out from behind the windshield. The American perspective on freedom of mobility is so perversely skewed, it’ll take years of sustained high gas prices to truly change policy. I say years because the high prices of 2007 did nothing to really alter the status quo (except bring down the housing market, but one can’t expect the American public to connect the dots).

  • Clutch J

    Everything is negotiable!

    The Governor is making a budget proposal; the final budget won’t be signed until summer. Yes, under his current proposal, the amount of tax paid at the pump would decrease, but it’s up to the legislature to respond.

    Rather than fussing over transit operations funding in a fight with a governor who clearly does not want the state to fund transit operations, why not take him up on his offer to increase the gasoline excise tax, suggesting a larger increase?

    There will be a new governor in January 2011 with whom transit operations funding can be resolved.

    > mikesonn: @Clutch J, I was under the impression that in dropping the sales tax on gas and raising the exercise tax the overall amount per gallon would actually go down.

  • @Clutch J, I wish I shared your optimism, but MUNI (and a ton of other transit agencies) can’t wait around for a new governor. MUNI is already putting many more cuts on the table and if funding isn’t produced soon – yesterday – then cuts are going to be made again and again. Also, do you really think the legislature is going to raise the gas tax when they can’t even pass any tax increases because of this state’s GOP?

    Furthermore, because of Prop 13 it has fallen on the state to fund things like transit because the local tax base isn’t anywhere near the amount it should be. So whether the Gov likes it or not, the state needs to come up with the funds.

  • Clutch J

    @mikesonn — All valid points. I merely hope that, in their efforts to protect or increase state funding for transit operations, transportation reformers take note of the very newsworthy fact that a Republican governor has requested what would be the first increase in the gasoline excise tax since the early 1990s.

  • @Clutch J – I completely agree, I guess I just don’t see him as actually increasing the overall tax on gas. Yes one is going up, the the other is going down by more.

  • It will be interesting to see where the next governor stands on High-Speed Rail considering education, healthcare, prison, sustainable water supply, and other needs …. Poizner or the eBay lady could make killing of the HSR project part of their campaign with little risk, Prop 1a was only approved by a slight margin.

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