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Arnold Schwarzenegger

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."

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