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    A $5 billion ask for CA public transit

    CalMatters

    Lynn La  LYNN LA  APRIL 25, 2023

    Commuters quickly jump on the Metro bus at the Norwalk Green Line Station in Norwalk on April 3 2023 A decline in ridership was exacerbated when the COVID 19 pandemic began in March 2020 leading to service cuts and fare hikes Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

    From CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal

    Now we know the price tag to keep California public transit agencies from going over a “fiscal cliff” — $5.15 billion over five years.

    As part of a budget proposal being unveiled today in the state Senate, transit agency officials and their supporters in the Legislature are seeking “bridge funding” for transit systems throughout the state, some of whom are struggling to recover ridership after the pandemic.

    The proposal is being championed by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, who said that without the state cash, BART and other big-city transit systems will have to make drastic service cuts.

    The California Transit Association, which says the plan was created by 15 member agencies, says the $5.15 billion over five years for transit operations can come from a mix of funding sources that already support transit:

    • $1.35 billion additional funds from the diesel fuel tax;
    • $2.5 billion from unallocated cap-and-trade revenue;
    • $300 million from transit development projects;
    • $1 billion from future funding for operations.

    The association and Wiener’s office say the budget request will only require a $213 million reduction to General Fund revenue in the next fiscal year, and pledged to address safety and cleanliness concerns and to continue work on accountability.

    • Michael Pimentel, transit association executive director: “We recognized the importance of putting forward a request that could enjoy broad-based buy-in not only from the transit agencies, but we hope also by the Legislature and the administration.”

    Wiener, meanwhile, said that the bridge funding would help transit agencies preserve services until the dust settles “more significantly” from declining ridership and changing commuting patterns during COVID-19.

    • Wiener: “As we look over the next few years at what adjustments need to be made, let’s do that from a position of fiscal strength and not fiscal chaos.”

    Meanwhile on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the award of $690 million to 28 public transit projects in disadvantaged communities, part of a multi-year, multi-billion investment to expand service and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    There isn’t a transit caucus yet in the Legislature. But there are 16 official ones, besides the party caucuses. Whether they are identity- or interest-based, Sameea dives into the underappreciated influence of these caucuses, which can help decide what bills are prioritized and passed. Other takeaways:

    • Reasons why lawmakers join caucuses vary. Caucuses help them form relationships, decide what issues are important, workshop ideas or adopt different policy approaches.
    • Bipartisan caucuses can offer Republican legislators, who are outnumbered in the Legislature, another avenue of influence and the opportunity to remain politically relevant. For Democrats, these caucuses can help their brand when courting more moderate voters.
    • Caucuses typically have nonprofit arms and donations to these are unlimited. In 2022, the second biggest sponsor of legislators’ travel was the Legislative Jewish Caucus, which spent about $231,000 to take 14 legislators to Israel.
    • Caucuses help members grow their ranks. The California Legislative Black Caucus has a leadership training program to increase state government representation.

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