By Tove Beatty
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, fresh from losing his appeal in a court battle (Shaw v. Chiang) to rob public transit of state funding in order to backfill General Fund shortfalls, is proposing yet another budget measure aimed at both fooling the public and resulting in the catastrophic and statewide decimation of public transit systems.
In February 2009, the State Legislature voted to suspend funding for the State Transit Assistance (STA) Program for five years, after many years of the program having strong bipartisan support, providing essential funds to public transit. This January it is far worse, the Governor has proposed a “gas tax swap,” eliminating the state’s 6.2% gasoline sales tax directed to public transit; this is the funding mecahnism for public transportation imposed by the 70% voter-approved passage of Proposition 42 back in 2002. The Governor proposes replacing the gas sales tax with a 10.8 cents per gallon excise tax, thereby redirecting vital public transit money to other budget gaps, while making it seem like an overall break for consumers. This exchange essentially un-funds Proposition 42’s support of public transportation!
This will do nothing but adversely and permanently affect public transit systems—systems which are vital to California’s fiscal and environmental health, from the overarching goal of becoming a “green” state, to the primary means of transportation serving the lowest-income, most underserved of our fellow citizens. We cannot balance a crippled state budget on the backs of those who most depend on an effective public transit system to provide them access to work, schools, medical care and other daily needs. With unstable gasoline prices, major traffic congestion issues, and legislative demands to abate greenhouse gas emissions, the need for public transportation in California has never been greater.
Santa Cruz METRO, which has provided service to all areas of the county for over 30 years, estimates that the lost STA funding has cost nearly $25 million to date. The current proposed budget eliminates STA funding permanently, resulting in an additional loss of about $5 million per year for Santa Cruz. Public transit also relies on state bond funding, but recent bond sales have been poor due to the state’s abysmal bond rating, and the related loss to Santa Cruz METRO is estimated at $20 million. If the Governor’s proposal passes, and the state decides to go after local sales tax revenues, an additional $1.5 million per year will be lost. That’s $31.5 million lost PER YEAR to our local transit system! The gasoline sales tax established by Proposition 42, a California Constitutional amendment, was approved by voters in 2002 by a nearly 70% margin; the people know how important public transi it. This proposal will destroy that funding, and ravage transit districts statewide. Santa Cruz METRO alone faces the following losses: 35 bus routes; 2,500 hours of service per year; 295 jobs; a 75% reduction of ParaCruz service for the disabled; elimination of fare subsidies for college students; NO service to rural areas such as Bonny Doon, parts of Watsonville and Live Oak; and the loss of capital revenue needed to bring fleet vehicles up to the low emissions standards required under AB32.
Please, take the time to voice your supoprt for public transit and your vehement opposition to the disastrous “gas tax swap,” as soon as possible, by phoning the Governor’s office at 916-445-2841 or faxing him a letter at 916-558-3160.
Then call State Assembly Member Bill Monning, who is a strong supporter of public transit, at 831-425-1503, and State Senator Joe Simitian, also a strong supporter, at 831-425-0401 or faxed at 831-425-5124, so they can work on the issue. The time is now to let Sacramento know of the personal and collective catastrophic consequences of the elimination of public transit in California.
Tove Beatty is the Legislative Analyst for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District.