Every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve been checking Governor Brown’s website to see if he’s taken action on CLCV and Green California’s priority legislation. I’ve also been following press stories closely to look for hints on whether he’s going to sign or veto particular bills. And most days, not much happens. On Monday though, Brown posted an update on bill signings and vetoes. I had almost reached the end of the list, thinking he again hadn’t acted on any of our priority bills, when I saw something very sad – our governor had vetoed AB 650 (Blumenfield), which would have established a task force to find solutions to California’s transit funding crisis.
This is particularly upsetting to me – both as a transit rider and a environmental advocate – since this was not the first pro-transit bill Brown vetoed this year. This summer he vetoed SB 582 (Yee), which would have established a commuter benefit pilot program to encourage employees to ride public transit, carpool, or bike to work.
In his AB 650 veto message, he wrote this about the proposed task force:
This is a matter well within the jurisdication and competence of the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees. Moreover, Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission are also equipped to probe into these matters.
Rather than creating a new entity, let’s use the resources we have.
I understand Governor Brown’s point here, but unfortunately, none of these bodies have succeeded in solving or getting close to finding a solution to California’s transportation funding crisis. Over the past several years, the State has cut funding to public transit multiple times. Transit agencies throughout the state are hurting, and most have been forced to cut service and/or raise fairs.
I don’t own a car so our transportation funding crisis has had a big impact on my life. This summer, my bus fare increased for the third time in recent years, and last year the bus line that used to take me to my favorite park was cut entirely.
But at least I can still travel to work quickly via transit. Others aren’t so lucky: service cuts have forced them to walk long distances or to take circuitous routes with multiple transfers to reach their destinations. Here in Oakland I’ve heard many stories of students who don’t show up for class because they cannot afford the increased bus fares.
Public transit is key to meeting California’s greenhouse gas reduction and air quality goals. In fact, a single person can reduce her greenhouse gas emissions by 4,400 pounds annually and cut production of deadly air pollutants by 90% if she takes public transport instead of driving alone.
With so much at stake, it would have been great if our existing state agencies and committees would have addressed this growing funding problem sooner, before it reached crisis level. But they haven’t, which is why Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield authored AB 650. As he explained in a guest blog post last month:
Assembly Bill (AB) 650 establishes a blue ribbon task force to craft a public transportation development plan for California based on an assessment of what transit we have, what amount of transit we need, and how we can finance transit construction. The task force will be composed of 12 experts in finance, transit, the environment, and public health who must complete their plan by September 30, 2012. This work would be undertaken, in part, through workshops conducted across the state. And, it would be financed from existing transit moneys provided through California’s gas tax, specifically those devoted to transit planning.
The blue ribbon task force is a tried and true way to help California find solutions to complex and enduring problems, like public transportation. In recent years, task forces have helped California enact comprehensive fisheries protections off our coast and achieve breakthrough reforms that balance our state’s water supply needs with environmental protection.
To meet California’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, we must invest in transit to make it convenient for current riders and to attract new riders. This task force would have been a huge step in that direction so I am disappointed that Governor Brown vetoed AB 650. I hope though that he will urge the legislative transportation committees as well as the California Transportation Commission to focus on this incredibly important issue.
AB 650 was not signed into law, but the bill moved the conversation on transportation funding forward. For this I am incredibly grateful to Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, CLCV members who took action on this bill, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and the allied Green California organizations that moved this bill forward.