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Posts from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Category

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Why You Should Be Angry About CA’s “Highest Gas Tax in the Country”

I know it’s tempting to gloat.

Today, newspaper headlines are blaring the news that with the newest increase in the state’s gas tax, that California now has the highest gas tax in the country.

As I said, I know it’s tempting.

But, it’s the result of bad policy. None of the money from that increased gas tax will go to fix California’s crumbling infrastructure, or restore and fund any local transit system, or paint an inch of new bike lanes. It’s all going to the general fund, thanks to Arnold Schwarzengger and a short-sighted legislature.

To balance the state budget in 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed, pushed for, and eventually signed a law that changed the tax structure for gas taxes with a so-called “fuel swap.” The new tax structure eliminated the sales tax on fuel and raised the excise tax. The purpose of the change was to eliminate funds that were dedicated towards transportation from the gas tax so that the Governor could balance the state budget with fewer cuts elsewhere and no tax increases.

After years of Governors Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis “declaring a fiscal emergency” to basically rob transit operations funds that were dedicated by voters in 2002 and 2006, the State Supreme Court ruled that there had to be an actual emergency, not just a lack of political will, to declare and emergency. It was at this point, that Schwarzengger devised the “fuel swap” plan.

The program also allowed the state to raise gas taxes so that the amount collected remains static even as the amount of fuel consumed decreases. If this meant a consistent level of funding for transit and road repair projects, the program might be more popular and useful.

But it doesn’t. As George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization that approved today’s increase noted when he voted against it, “The goal of the fuel tax swap wasn’t good  tax policy. Instead, its sole purpose was to allow the Legislature to move more than a billion dollars in gas tax revenues into the state’s general fund.”

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Coalition of California Advocates Headed to Sacramento to Save Transit

Members of a broad coalition hailing from throughout California are headed to Sacramento next week to push policymakers to save transit funding and enact sustainable transportation planning reforms.

The Oakland-based transit advocacy group TransForm has amassed about 150 advocates to descend on the capitol for its two-day Transportation Choices Summit, the first known event of its kind, where they will meet with state representatives and urge them to prioritize walking, bicycling, and transit.

TransForm State Policy Director Graham Brownstein said the action came out of the organization’s Invest in Transit campaign, launched last year to address the “very, very serious crisis” facing transit systems in California. The state has made dramatic funding cuts totaling more than $4 billion over the last decade, and TransForm recognized the immediate need for “creative policy reforms that will stabilize, and then grow transit funding in California,” said Brownstein.

The cornerstone of the campaign is a push to ensure that a major portion of the revenue from California’s nascent cap-and-trade program will be dedicated to transit operations and affordable housing projects located near transit.

The cap-and-trade revenue could go a long way toward restoring the damage done to transit funding under the Schwarzenegger administration. By selling emissions permits, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration anticipates the cap-and-trade program will generate $1 billion in the 2012-2013 budget and $10 billion annually by 2020, according to TransForm [PDF].

Brownstein said transit agencies need all the help they can get to avert a much deeper statewide crisis.

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State Legislature Bill Could Restore Millions in STA Funds to Struggling MTA

2371307253_9526f5c26e.jpgRare good news out of Sacramento. But will the Governor approve it? Flickr photo: The Junk

Last minute legislation to send some State Transit Assistance (STA) funds back to local transit agencies could prove a huge boon for Muni if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approves it.

The bill, ABX8 9, was approved by the California State Legislature today, and would provide a total of $36 million to the MTA, with $7.2 million coming in for this fiscal year and the rest in the next. A second bill approved today, ABX8 6, would partially restore continuous STA funding to local agencies beginning in fiscal year 2011-12 through a gas tax swap.

The measure includes $400 million in STA funding for transit operators statewide and a $350 million per year starting in fiscal year 2011-12. In light of the $28.5 million annually the MTA expects to save from recent service cuts, it's clear that such a windfall would be a great help to the cash-strapped agency.

"While today's vote does not restore all of the revenue we have lost from the state in recent years, the funding would clearly help us provide more reliable transit service to our customers," said MTA Executive Director Nat Ford, who thanked State Senators Leland Yee and Mark Leno, and Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano for their support of the bill.

The MTA has lost $179 million in STA funding over the last three years.

But don't uncork the champagne bottles yet: the governor's signature is far from guaranteed. It was Schwarzenegger, after all, who illegally raided the STA funds in the first place. He has 12 days to act on the measures, and could veto parts or all of the bills.

"For once, this looks like good news from Sacramento but now we need the Governor's support to make it real," Mayor Newsom said in a release.

According to the MTA release, the agency will be actively lobbying the governor to support the measure.

Update: TransForm's Transportation Program Director, Carli Paine, has the following comments on the bill:

"We are disappointed with the package, but understand that it represents the best package that legislators were able to develop given the state budget crisis. Together, the bills strip public transportation of potentially billions of dollars of funding that advocates have been fighting to protect, and replace them with limited funding that remains vulnerable to raids. This proposal will result in an annual budget battle to ensure that the funding dedicated to public transit actually gets allocated to our buses, trains, and ferries.

"It is imperative that the State give local agencies the ability to raise new revenues with voter approval. Authority to allow this was a silver lining in an earlier version of this proposal, but has been stripped out. TransForm encourages legislators to fight to give regions the ability to help themselves since the State is clearly not able to provide the extent of support that's needed to keep our buses and trains running and affordable."


White House Awards $2.3B for California High-Speed Rail

California's bid for a federal high-speed rail network with top speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour is often called the "only true" bullet train proposal on the table -- and the Obama administration agreed today, bestowing $2.34 billion on the Golden State to the delight of lawmakers and rail advocates.

The largest share of the state's high-speed rail award, $2.25 billion, will go towards an Anaheim-to-San Francisco link that is expected to cost about $42 billion to complete.

20091026134234_Preferred_state_102209pm.jpgGraphic: CHSRC (click to enlarge)

Smaller grants were given to improve service on the San Diego-Los Angeles Surfliner route, the Capitol Corridor route from Sacramento to the Bay Area, and to give trains new emissions control equipment.

The popular Capitol Corridor route will get a $29.2 million infusion -- including $6.2 million for the Sacramento Rail Relocation Project and $23 million will be allocated to "easing bottleneck conditions" between Davis and Sacramento.

"We can now move full speed ahead with these projects immediately, creating much-needed jobs, improving mobility options by enhancing Capitol Corridor intercity passenger train service and generating regional economic activity," Capitol Corridor Managing Director David B. Kutrosky said in a statement.

The White House grant is less than half the size of the state's initial $4.7 billion allocation, but the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has the voter-approved ability to match the federal aid dollar for dollar.

U.S. High Speed Rail Association chief Andy Kunz praised the administration's decision to spread high-speed rail aid out among 13 different corridors, prodding states such as California to "get creative" and leverage other funding sources.

State are "all going to scramble, going to build their own money and support systems to get these things up and running," Kunz said in an interview.


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.

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Governor Schwarzenegger Finds Another Way to Rob Transit

5_15_09_Ahnold.jpgPhoto: Trinity County California Republican Party
This morning when I saw the L.A. Times headline about new budget cuts announced by Governor Schwarzenegger, I wasn't worried.  After all, I knew this time there wasn't anything else he could do to hurt transportation and transit.  How much more damage could be done after he abolished state subsidies to transit in his most recent round of budget cuts?

According to the California Transit Association, the governor wasn't finished.  An unexpected budget surplus created a lifeline for transit, and Schwarzenegger was there with the scissors to cut it. The revised budget proposal diverts another $336 million in transit-dedicated "spillover" revenue to instead cover transit bond debt service, which is by law a General Fund obligation.