Local transit funding depends on compromise in Sacramento

If Bay Area transit agencies want to hang on to $129 million in anticipated funding for the coming fiscal year, they will need both houses of the Legislature to engage in a broad bipartisan compromise — not exactly a hallmark of California politics.

The November passage of Proposition 26, which mandated that certain state fees and tax allocations be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, threatens a complicated 2010 gas-tax swap that reinstated California’s transit assistance program.

Since that deal involved an increase to the state’s excise tax, it must be re-enacted with a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, according to Jessica Digiambattista of the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

If the reauthorization is not approved, transit agencies will suffer. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency could lose about $31.5 million and BART about $23 million. Caltrain could miss out on about $4.5 million and SamTrans some $4.6 million.

Stung by past state raids on the fund, nearly every regional transit agency has resorted to service reductions or fare increases.

“We’re hopeful that the Legislature will be motivated by the ability to preserve funding for transit,” said Seamus Murphy, government affairs manager for Caltrain and SamTrans. “But the current situation is a concern to us.”

Gov. Jerry Brown included the tax reauthorization in his recent budget proposal. Yet Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, who sits on the Assembly’s transportation committee and said he will support the tax reauthorization, predicts that it will be “difficult” for the measure to succeed.

“The governor is going to have to do a lot of work to pass this one,” Logue said.

Last year’s tax was approved in a 41-32 vote in the Assembly and a 22-10 tally in the state Senate. The votes would have met the requirements of Prop. 26.

Joshua Shaw, the director of the California Transit Association, said it would be a “disaster” if the deal was not reauthorized.

“The supermajority is normally a very high threshold, but we’ve received some very positive feedback from both parties on this measure,” he said. “We’re hoping that transportation funding can avoid some of the normal ideological issues that divide the Legislature.”

If the Legislature does not approve the reauthorization, local transit agencies could sue the state in a bid to restore the funds. However, because the measure was a voter initiative, the legal ramifications are unknown, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler.

“The fact that the gas-tax swap is now under question seems to be an unintended consequence of Proposition 26,” he said. “I think it could be quite some time before we realize the true ramifications of that measure.”


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