Governor Brown vetoes commuter benefits bill

Last month I wrote about SB 582, which would have established a commuter benefit pilot program to encourage employees to ride public transit, carpool, or bike to work. As I wrote in that blog post:

The pilot program would allow metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) and local air districts to jointly adopt a regional commute benefit requirement. Employers in these regions would have the following options:

  • Give employees the option to pay for their transit, vanpooling or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars, as currently allowed by federal law;
  • Offer employees a transit or vanpool subsidy up to $75 per month;
  • Provide employees with a free shuttle or vanpool operated by or for the employer.

As a recap, the bill sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support (and a Republican author) but ran into trouble when the California Chamber of Commerce came out against it. Republican Senator Bill Emmerson, while still supporting SB 582, pulled out from being the bill’s author, and Senator Leland Yee stepped in as the sponsor. SB 582 then narrowly passed the Assembly on a narrow, party line vote.

Sadly, the story doesn’t end there, as last week Governor Brown vetoed the bill. In his veto statement he wrote:

While I support the goal of reducing vehicle trips, this bill would impose a new mandate on small business at a time of economic uncertainty.

What’s most disappointing about this statement is that SB 582 would have saved money for both employees and employers, while at the same time improving California’s air quality. (Commuter benefits save money because they are taken out pre-tax, saving employees and employers tax costs.)

Luckily, all is not lost for alternative means of transportation in California. As I said to Streetsblog Los Angeles:

But one setback doesn’t mean that supporters of SB 582 have given up the fight.  ”CLCV and our partners will continue to work to pass legislation that incentivizes and improves access to alternative means of transportation, like AB 650. That bill would establish a task force that will examine the current state of public transit, identify what is needed to make the system meet projected demand, map out associated costs, and – most importantly – determine how to consistently fund public transport to serve our state’s needs,” writes Saltzman.

AB 650 is only two steps away from the Governor’s desk: It already passed through the Assembly, and now needs the support of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate. Please take action today – tell your senator that we can’t wait to find solutions to California’s transportation funding crisis.

Posted on August 10, 2011


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