Transit advocates around the state are trying to grapple with the new reality that the budget compromise worked out between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature completely abolishes the State Transit Assistance (STA) and the $536 million that it dedicated to subsidizing transit operations.
There are multiple villains in this story, but the blackest hat is reserved for Schwarzenegger. Remember when he was out in front supporting high speed rail last November? This budget will cause major fare hikes and service reductions around the state, as Joshua Shaw, executive director of the California Transit Association, notes in a press release:
We will see fare increases.We will see service cuts. We will see layoffs. Ican say that with certainty simply because we’ve already seen thosethings happening even before the state apparently decided to abandon itsresponsibility to fund public transportation.
Of course, the governor couldn't slash transit funds without the support of the Legislature. While the League of California Environmental Voters, Environmental Defense and the National Resources Defense Council placed the blame at the feet of a "radical minority" of Republicans who used the state's super-majority requirement for any budget to effectively stall democratic efforts, other transit groups blamed the Democratic majority for not holding firm on protecting the environment.
"Make no mistake, Californians will breathe dirtier air, spend more time in traffic, and less time with their families as a result of a budget deal that gives zero to public transportation," said Nick Caston, the state transportation advocate for Transform.
A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the office is not commenting on the latest budget and cannot confirm any details.
In the Bay Area, every transit agency is facing cutbacks and struggling with huge deficits that will deepen without the STA fund. Muni is facing a $100 million gap over the next 16 months. AC Transit announced this week it's considering its first fare hike in four years as it tries to close a $42 million deficit. Other agencies face similar realities. BART: $90 million. VTA: $40 million. And on.
In the short term, readers should call their legislators and demand that transit funding be restored to the budget. In the long term, the environmental groups want to change the super-majority law so a small group of legislators can't hijack the entire budget process.