The budget agreement that legislative Democrats plan to pass Thursday partly addresses the major concerns facing some public transit agencies in California, which have pleaded for state assistance as they continue to deal with a statewide $6 billion deficit due in large part to ridership declines.
But for it to become final, Gov. Gavin Newsom has to sign off before July 1.
The Legislature’s plan provides $1.1 billion over three years for the Zero Emission Transit Capital program, which is funded partly from cap-and-trade revenues. Agencies can use the money for operations as long as they meet yet-to-be-detailed accountability measures.
It also restores $2.2 billion for the Transportation Infrastructure Package that Newsom proposed cutting in January. That brings the total back to $4 billion over three years, and also gives agencies the flexibility to use the money for operations.
Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who has been leading the charge to fend off the transit “fiscal cliff,” said the deal would cover a significant portion of transit systems’ collective operating deficit, but said the state should use more federal highway money to fund transit operations.
The California Transit Association, which represents the industry, sought $5.15 billion in “bridge funding” to help agencies avoid cutting service or raising fares while they pursue longer-term solutions, such as regional bond measures.
Michael Pimentel, executive director of the association, said he sees the Legislature’s plan as a positive step forward, though some agencies may not want to take from construction spending to pay for operations.
- Pimentel: “For public transit to be successful, we really need support from all levels of government — from federal on down to the locals, and right in the middle of that is the state.”
While the plan takes an additional bite out of the state’s zero-emission vehicle efforts, the tradeoff is acceptable given the central role that public transit plays in meeting targets for cutting greenhouse gasses, said James Pew, a climate policy fellow with NextGen California.
- Pew: “We love electric buses and want to see more of them and want to electrify the entire fleet, but there is not much point to running electric buses if you don’t have a transit system.”
The governor has asked the Legislature to back an initiative to ask voters to approve a bond that could restore some of the money for zero-emission vehicle and other climate programs.
Public transit isn’t the only significant point of difference between legislative Democrats’ plan and Newsom’s.
For instance, acting on priorities set out at the beginning of the session, the Legislature’s deal proposes waiving childcare fees through September and caps a family’s fees at 1% for low-income households. It also bolsters the effort of childcare providers to further increase reimbursement rates — something the providers’ union has been pushing for since it was allowed to form in 2019.
The governor’s budget proposal also eliminated $561 million in state funding for projects to protect the coast against rising seas from climate change. Now the Legislature wants to give some of that back: $102 million for coastal resilience programs at the Coastal Conservancy and $65 million to the Ocean Protection Council, a major grant-making agency.
Speaking of Gov. Newsom: In his first interview on Fox News in 13 years, he jousted with host Sean Hannity about California’s population losses, its business climate and San Francisco’s struggles. But during the hour-long show that aired Monday evening, he did agree that the state’s homelessness crisis is “disgraceful.”
He also pushed back on whether President Biden is mentally fit to serve. Asked whether his phone is lighting up with those who want him to challenge Biden, Newsom again demurred. “I’m rooting for our president,” he said.
If you didn’t get enough of Newsom vs. Hannity, more of the interview will air later this week.