New Budget Ends State Funding for Public Transit

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Natomas resident Clarence Otis is waiting for a train at the K Street mall in downtown Sacramento.  He takes Regional Transit busses and light rail all the time, he says, to get downtown for his medical appointments.
Otis: “I have a car, but I don’t take it down here, because there’s nowhere to park.  It’s just easier to do this.” 
But for Otis and the millions of other California residents who rely on public transportation, the new state budget has nothing but bad news.  Even before this spending plan, California had already cut 85 percent of transit funding.  This last budget eliminates the rest of it.  And not surprisingly, transit agencies aren’t happy.
Wiley: “Matched with the economy and the fact that sales tax receipts are down significantly, it couldn’t come at a worse time.” 
Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley says he’s already raised fares and significantly cut costs to deal with the previous budget, since RT has gotten nearly a third of its revenue from the state.  He says the federal stimulus package will help in the short-term, but if the economy doesn’t recover, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
Wiley: “Under the best circumstances – we’ll be able to maintain the current level of services.  And under the worst circumstances, we may be looking at service cuts next fiscal year.”
And it’s the same throughout the state, says Jeff Wagner with the California Transit Association – that’s the group that lobbies the governor and lawmakers for public transit.
Wagner: “Based on the budget passed in September, we saw a lot of agencies throughout the state either contemplating or actually implementing such measures as fare hikes, service cuts, layoffs.  What we’re likely to see as a result of this latest budget news is for a lot of those agencies, it’s going to go beyond the contemplation stage into actual enactment.” 
Of course, no one at the State Capitol was happy with this budget.  The state had to do a lot more than simply cut public transit to close its $40 billion budget gap.  Public education lost $11 billion, for example, and taxes are going up for most Californians.
Meanwhile, public transit advocates are counting on their allies in the state legislature to find a stable, long-term funding source.  A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says the Democrat supports doing just that.