When Governor Jerry Brown released his revised budget proposal on May 13, he argued that California must build its reserves for a future economic winter. But when it comes to climate change, failing to spend urgently and intelligently may make our meteorological winters ever dryer and hotter.
The Governor’s failure to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s Cap and Trade auction revenues in California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund – money specifically earmarked for projects that will reduce greenhouse gas reductions – is just one of several flaws. This is the second year in a row that significant funds will not have been appropriated from the Fund – reminiscent of the Governor’s budget in 2013, in which he borrowed millions of dollars from the Fund, some of which has yet to be repaid.
Even the money that the May Revise does propose to spend from the Fund is not being directed to meet the most urgent needs of low-income Californians. It invests scarce resources in paving roads and flashy infrastructure projects rather than in making our public transit network more functional and accessible.
Transit operators cut routes and increased fares when the bottom fell out of their operations funding during the Great Recession. Even as California’s economy has been recovering for some, many transit agencies have been painfully slow to restore service. These fare increases and service cuts have hit low income people and communities of color especially hard. And on top of that, as even Caltrans is beginning to acknowledge, California will not reach its climate change goals without robust public transit systems that people can afford to use.
Public Advocates and our coalition partners prioritize funding for transit operations because it is one of the most effective ways to spend Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund revenues. Some of this money could come from eliminating the $100 million proposed for “low-carbon roads,” which will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in fact will likely encourage more auto usage. Another $400 million is proposed to be added to the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, which already gets twice as much each year as the transit operations program. So far, the Governor has turned a deaf ear to calls to direct half of that amount to the Low Carbon Transit Operations fund, with $50 million of those dollars earmarked for a pilot transit pass program for students and low income riders.
The Governor has an opportunity to help stabilize the operating budgets of struggling transit agencies, make sure students can get to school, and reduce carbon emissions by getting people out of their cars and on to public transit, while at the same time creating well-paying jobs. Public Advocates will continue to encourage the Governor to make the right choice.