Saturday, February 07, 2009

Teh Stupid

It's February 7 and California still doesn't have a budget that will deal with the state's financial crisis. I'm beginning to think that we won't see one this decade, even if the federal stimulus package passes in some form, giving California a little breathing room.

The latest proposals from the governor and the Democrats are just as lame as the last set. Both seem determined to placate the recalcitrant Republicans at all costs, and, mark my words, it will cost. One of the sections that I find particularly galling has to do with public transit. An editorial in today's Sacramento Bee nails the proposals beautifully.

Throughout the state budget crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been fond of saying, "Everyone has to get their hair trimmed." By that he means sacrifice will be required from all sectors. But some who depend on government support have gotten shorter haircuts than others. Transit is a prime example.

Under the governor's latest budget proposal, public transit in California would get more than a trim. It would be shaved bald. The administration proposes to eliminate all state funding for transit. The transit funding proposal put forward by the Democratic majority in the Legislature is only slightly less draconian. Its plans would cut by half the transit funding provided to local transit districts this year, reducing support from $306 million to just $150 million.

The state funding is for operating costs, not new buses or expensive new train lines. Most transit districts in California have hit the wall because of the last budget cuts from the state, which means they are faced with having to raise fares and to reduce service just as Californians are finally getting on board. Make the bus ride more difficult and more expensive and the numbers of Californians on public transportation will drop. Ironically, this will come just as the EPA under the Obama administration reviews its decision on the California emissions proposal. It will also come as the federal government will fund at least some of the public transit projects that will provide a needed update in the systems statewide.

The fare increases and service cutbacks come just as the down economy is forcing many workers to abandon their cars and take transit. According to the American Public Transit Association, bus, subway and light-rail ridership grew in many California cities by 20 percent to 25 percent in 2008. High gasoline prices account for much of the increase, but even as gas prices have come down, ridership gains have not eroded.

The massive transit cuts proposed will also reduce the effectiveness of California's historic efforts to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The Obama administration is poised to give California the authority the state has long sought to impose tougher auto fuel efficiency standards in order to cut harmful global-warming gases. But even with that authority, it will take years to get cleaner cars on the roads.

By contrast, boosts in transit ridership, which the state budget cuts threaten, would have an immediate and direct positive impact on clean air and climate change.

So much for the "Green Governor."

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