Assembly transpo committee hears Metro’s concerns

The California State Assembly’s transportation committee held a hearing at Metro headquarters in Los Angeles on Friday, providing a chance for agency officials to say once again that state funding is necessary to keep buses and trains rolling.

It was basically an informational hearing. Nothing was voted on or decided Friday. But local officials made three big points to the committee, which is chaired by Assemblyman Mike Eng, whose district covers the southwestern San Gabriel Valley:

1. The state in the past three years has diverted $3.4 billion in funds that should have gone to local transit agencies to instead help deal with the state’s budget shortfall.

2. Some of the money was the only ongoing source of funding for day-to-day transit operations.

3. California is one of only 15 states that doesn’t provide direct funding for transit operations.

“We understand the terrible budget situation that the state faces and we are sympathetic,” Metro CEO Art Leahy told the committee, adding that Metro is also facing a 20% dip in Prop A, Prop C and Measure R sales tax receipts that fund the agency’s work.

Metro thus far has avoided any draconian cuts but has trimmed some bus service, mostly by adjusting schedules. Will Kempton, the CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, said his agency has impacted 90,000 riders with its cuts and that “these are people who for the most part do not have other alternatives.”

The California Transit Assn., or CTA, helped organize the hearing. The group represents transit agencies across California and sued the state to end the raids. The California Supreme Court, earlier this fall, ruled that such diversions are illegal but it remains unclear if agencies will recover the money that had already been taken.