Ballot measure aims to protect transit dollars

Let me guess: As you sit here reading this today you’re probably not exactly obsessed with measures that might appear on the 2010 November ballot.

Nonetheless, for those interested in transit, there’s an interesting measure in the works. The California Transit Assn. (known as the CTA), which represents transit agencies in the state, and a coalition of other groups took a step last week toward qualifying a measure that would prohibit lawmakers from raiding two gasoline taxes that are supposed to go toward transportation uses.

The measure would also, according to the association, “prevent the State from redirecting or taking public transit funds.” Here’s a link to the coalition’s website on the proposed measure.

News of the ballot measure comes after the State Supreme Court earlier this month ruled that such raids by the state are illegal. The CTA says that more than $3 billion in money that was supposed to go for transportation was diverted elsewhere by state lawmakers in the past year and that more than $5 billion has been siphoned to other uses in this decade.

The cuts have hit transit agencies squarely between the eyes. Metro lost more than $100 million in the past year and other agencies have had to cut service. In particular, the Orange County Transportation Authority has been hit hard and just yesterday the agency’s board was contemplating more service reductions.

The obvious question is this: Why go to the ballot after receiving a favorable ruling from the State Supreme Court? “It’s certainly possible that the Legislature and the Governor could find other loopholes,” said Jeff Wagner, spokesman for the CTA.

Wagner added that this is the first time the CTA has been directly involved in crafting a ballot measure intended to protect transportation dollars (other measures have attempted to do so) and that the group’s expertise could help thwart loopholes once and for all. He also said that the CTA is working with the California League of Cities and the California Alliance for Jobs (which represents construction industry interests) because polling showed that voters favored a ballot measure that protected a broad array of funding.

At this point, the coalition is waiting to get a ballot measure title and summary back from the Attorney General’s office. If it decides to proceed, then the coalition would have to begin gathering signatures to place the measure on the 2010 fall ballot — the same election that will decide California’s next governor.

Just to give you a taste of what next year’s campaign may look like, here are a few of the talking points about the ballot measure that the CTA circulated to its members last week (sorry about the spacing issue!):

• The Governor and the Legislature have shown no qualms about illegally raiding transit funds to cover unrelated holes in the General Fund. This measure will clearly and plainly mandate that such illegal maneuvers must end.

• Voters have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their demands for transit funding, and they have been repeatedly betrayed by those responsible for crafting a state budget.

• The annual juggling acts and other gimmicks employed in our state budget process have only highlighted the fact that the process is irreparably broken. This measure will force lawmakers to budget responsibly and will help to hasten the budget reform California so desperately needs.

• Demand for transit service reached record-breaking levels in 2008, but continued illegal raids on transit funding have left transit providers with no choice but to implement fare increases, service reductions and other measures to make up for the loss of funding.

• Cost-cutting measures made necessary by these illegal raids have led to decreases in transit ridership, meaning the Governor and the Legislature have blown a golden opportunity to help alleviate traffic congestion and our dependence on foreign oil.

• The Governor and the Legislature have touted and received much praise over the recent adoption of measures to reduce greenhouse gasses (AB 32, 2006) and to promote smart-growth planning (SB 375, 2008). We support the aims of these measures and applaud their passage. But there’s a
blatant contradiction between crowing about those achievements on the one hand while on the other hand eviscerating the funding for public transit – the one program we have in place that is best equipped to help meet those goals. Without adequate funding for transit, those measures are
nothing more than empty promises.