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California Budget: On Balance, Not Bad for Transportation

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 01:35 PM

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal is devastating to many services across the state. But it would bring funding for transportation back to about what it was last year – and on balance, transportation advocates say that’s all they could ask for.

“We don’t love it, but it sets a baseline,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “Bringing stability to transportation is a very good thing.”

If enacted, the budget would reinstate a complex fuel tax swap that allocated about 75% of fuel excise tax revenues to public transportation funding. Last fall’s passage of Proposition 22 prevents the state from raiding that money to reimburse the General Fund, and Governor Brown’s budget proposes to use truck weight fees to fill the resulting budget gap – rather than making additional transportation cuts. So while the new budget doesn’t exactly shower the transportation sector with cash, it would restore enough funding for local agencies to maintain current service.

“If the budget stands, AC Transit, BART and other agencies will actually do a bit better,” said Rentschler. “Is it going to save them? No. But is it helpful? Yes.”

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“I’m impressed that the budget proposal seems to do what it can to not create a more dire situation for transit in the state,” said Graham Brownstein, regional policy director for transit advocacy group TransForm. “It looks like we have a chance of getting through the next year to 18 months without additional cuts.”

Transportation agencies around the state have repeatedly raised fares and cut service over the past several years as both state and federal funds disappeared. Brownstein emphasized that in the long term, the amount of money available for transit was inadequate to the state’s needs. “For decades, we’ve had this fight over how to allocate essentially the same amount of money every year. Now we need to figure out a systemic, fundamental change to how to generate funds for transportation and infrastructure,” he said.

That project may be more difficult with the elimination of state redevelopment agencies. Though those funds don’t typically go to transportation directly, they can be used for transit-oriented development projects that encourage dense growth around transportation centers. Several Bay Area projects are threatened, including the development of a transit village around the MacArthur BART station.

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