Brown Brings Life and Hope to Transit Funding

This piece was originally posted in EDF's Way2Go blog and was written by Kathryn Phillips.

The last two years have been grim ones around the country for transit agencies.  The economy’s slide has meant cuts in funding for drivers, managers and mechanics, and that’s generally meant cuts in service.

California’s transit agencies have been especially hard hit. As the state’s deficit grew bigger and bigger (it’s higher than $27 billion today), the legislature and then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began digging into state funds designated for transit to fund other essential services. The battles that erupted and the maneuvers to protect transit that evolved as a result were complex enough that only a 19th-Century Russian novelist could do the tale justice.

This week California’s newly inaugurated governor, Jerry Brown, began restoring life to transit and California’s transit users. He unveiled his 2011-2012 budget proposal and it includes a boost in transit funding. As one transit official suggested, it will help stop the bleeding.

The word on the street has been that this governor gets it about transit. He gets that good transit is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and health-threatening air pollution, to get people to work and school, to reduce traffic congestion and make daily travel more reliable.

There were many reasons to believe this might be true. Throughout his career—two other terms as governor, two terms as mayor of Oakland, a term as attorney general—Brown has demonstrated that he thinks Californians need to be creative and smart about how we deal with transportation demand. Still, until that first budget came out, there was only hope.

The governor’s budget proposal now has some hurdles to clear. It now goes to the legislature where there will be hearings and debate and more debate,  leadership meetings, and finally a series of legislative votes.

If it clears these hurdles, the proposal won’t totally solve the transit funding crisis in this state. However, it will help restore and maintain some service, and it settles the Capitol feuding over whether the state should even contribute to transit operations funding. With that settled, Californians can start the real conversation about how to pay for the level of transit Californians need.

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