California public transit operators for years have braced themselves for pain at the annual arrival of the proposed state budget because it usually meant a reduction in funds, leading to higher fares and service cuts.

New governor. New budget, but no new take-aways.

Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan released last week would spare transit operators like BART and AC Transit from further cuts even though the document whacks state funding in many other areas, such as health care and social services.

"The proposed budget provides stability to public transit operators ... Overall, it's a good thing for transit," said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a transportation and planning agency for the nine Bay Area counties.

Transit operators have had a rough four or years or so because the state has diverted some of the money they use for operating costs not covered by fares.

Brown proposes action to protect a tax swap that the Legislature approved last year to give transit more stable funding and to end its reliance on state general fund money.

Lawmakers eliminated the sales tax on gasoline, and replaced it with an equivalent increase in the per-gallon gas tax. The deal -- which did not change the total that consumers pay at the pump -- also reduced the per-gallon diesel tax in exchange for a higher diesel sales tax that would funnel more money to public transit.


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Transit operators liked the swap, but voters put it in doubt. Last fall, California voters approved Proposition 26, which many experts think would repeal the two higher fuel taxes on Nov. 2 unless state lawmakers go back and approve the increases by a two-thirds majority -- not the original simple majority, according to a Jan. 7 memo to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

In his budget message, Gov. Brown said he would support having the Legislature approve the tax swap on by a two-thirds majority.

The California Transit Association, a lobby for transit operators, is pleased by the proposed budget, said Jeff Wagner, a spokesman for the group. "The governor understands what public transit has gone through the last few years, and he's trying to provide a baseline of some minimal funding."

BART Board President Bob Franklin said he wasn't familiar with the details of the state budget proposal, but added he would welcome a deal that preserves state transit funding. "After years of state reductions, the status quo is good."

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Read the Capricious Commuter at www.ibabuzz.com/transportation/. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.