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."