The spending plan passed Tuesday includes
$1.9 billion for public transit, but takes $1.25 billion from traditional sources of transit funding and spends them on other programs. While it appears that the governor won'ttarget transit spending with his promise to line-item veto another $700 million in specific items from the final spending plan, there's concern that he might gut what is left of the high-speed rail program.
"It's quite disappointing that when it came down to reducing the budget, public transit really took the lion's share of cuts," said Carli Paine of the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition. The cuts were especially disappointing since there is a major surplus in a special fuel tax fund that legislators agreed 30 years ago to reserve for public transit.
At Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance department, the transit picture is viewed somewhat differently.
Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said that while the so-called fuel tax "spillover" fund and other sources were shifted to fund $948 million in old transportation bond repayments, $129 million for transporting clients to developmental centers, and $99 million for school busing, the result was still a net increase for transit.
"When all is said and done, the year-over-year spending will increase over $700 million," Palmer said, from $1.2 billion in the fiscal year that just ended to $1.9 billion for the new fiscal year.
That statement also means the governor isn't planning to cut those funds further.
For the East Bay's largest bus service provider, that will mean spending close to the bone without the $10.5 million it had expected from the spillover, with little ability to deal with a likely economic downturn and lower tax and bridge toll revenues, said Greg Harper, president of AC Transit's board of directors.
During the dot-com bust about four years ago, "we started eating through about $35 million of reserve funds that we had for just such an event." Now the agency is starting to rebuild that reserve, which stands at about $10 million.
"It looks like we are not going to be building up our reserve funds the way we had hoped," Harper said. "The next time we get a little hiccup in the economy, we are going to have to severely cut into service."
At the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, a promise made to improve weekend and evening service might be kept even with the new state budget, said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
BART board members had said getting the spillover money would pay for running extra trains so riders wouldn't have to wait more than 15 minutes for a train on the weekends.
"It looks at this point that there is funding to do it," Johnson said, even if BART gets somewhat less than the $50 million it was initially expecting from the state.
Even so, at a time when the governor is promoting his initiative to cut the state's output of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, this budget moves the state in the wrong direction, Paine said.
"How can we really achieve the greenhouse gas emissions that this administration has been lauded for without putting forward quality alternatives to driving personal vehicles," Paine said.
High-speed rail will keep chugging along under the new budget, provided Schwarzenegger doesn't further cut the austere $17.3 million approved by the Legislature.
Two state legislators, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, sent the governor a letter urging him to preserve that amount and not cut it to the $5.2 million proposed in his original budget. The High Speed Rail Authority had originally sought $104.2 million.
If the legislators' amount is preserved, the authority will have $20.7 million to work with, thanks in part to $3.5 million from Orange County's transit agency.
That will delay the project by a year, but "we will still be able to do our financial planning and basic engineering work," said Mehdi Moreshed, the authority's executive director.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Erik Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-208-6410.
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