California's budget deficit is bad and getting worse as revenues decline along with the sagging economy. The urgency of the situation requires consideration of both spending cuts and new revenues. But it's hard to understand how Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature see the wisdom in eliminating meager funding for public transportation - the triple win transportation option that helps people get to work, reduces pollution, and helps stimulate the economy by producing jobs. Yet our state leaders have cut transit funding to a bare bones level over the past few years. And when the Governor called a special legislative session to deal with the budget crisis, he proposed draining and then eliminating funding for transit operations.
Previous raids on public transportation have exacerbated shortfalls and we are seeing the consequences--agencies around the state have reduced service, deferred maintenance, and raised fares. Transit in some regions is on life support. More cuts could pull the plug on this vital service at a time when it's needed more than ever.
Not only would the Governor's proposal eliminate state support to run environmentally friendly public transportation, it would expedite construction of new roads and highways while skirting environmental review. The Los Angeles Times discusses whether this move conflicts with commitments made in passing SB 375. Investing in roads may create some construction jobs, but without consideration of environmental consequences, public dollars could perpetuate a petroleum-based, backward looking economy at a time when we need 21st century options.
The Surface Transportation Policy Project reports that dollars spent on public transportation create 19% more jobs than the same amount spent on new roads and highways. We must align funding and policies to spur innovation, promote clean energy, create green jobs and provide alternatives to driving. Fortunately, California voters had the wisdom and foresight to pass Proposition 1A, a measure supported by NRDC, which will help build high-speed rail in California. Several local measures also passed in November, demonstrating widespread support for transit. Let's hope California "leaders," who are behind the public on this issue, reject the latest proposal and ensure strong funding for public transportation.