Transit funding cuts planned

After touting transit as a means to reduce carbon emissions and praising agencies like BART for increasing service when a portion of Interstate 880 collapsed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be undermining support for area transit agencies — including those on the Peninsula — in his May budget proposal, transit experts said Wednesday.

The governor’s proposal would strip San Mateo County’s bus operator, SamTrans, of more than $5 million it received a year ago, leaving the agency struggling to fill a $10.5 million budget gap, SamTrans and Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. Caltrain would also lose $4.8 million in state gas tax money, leaving it with a $3.7 million deficit, Weinberg said.

Calling the May budget a “disappointment,” Weinberg said officials at the two agencies still hope that Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers will come to an agreement on a more “transit-friendly” budget before the beginning of the fiscal year July 1.

San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, a SamTrans board member, took the governor to task for proposing the cuts after hearing him talk in recent weeks of the need for improved transit and lower carbon emissions.

“In a certain sense [Gov. Schwarzenegger’s] talking out of both sides of his mouth,” Tissier said.

“If the governor’s proposal becomes law, I think we get stiffed twice over, because it takes scarce transit operating money [earmarked from the state fuel tax] but also reverses funding agreements from past years for capital projects,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler said.

The MTC plans to fight the governor’s proposal, which would shift approximately $145 million from state gas tax funds allocated for Bay Area transit agencies to fill the state’s $1.5 billion budget deficit, Rentschler said.

“We seem to be going in the wrong direction,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, who sits on both the SamTrans and Caltrain governing boards.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office disputed the claim of transit cuts, however, saying overall transit spending has increased by $321 million over 2006 to $1.6 billion, according to spokesman Aaron McLear.

While SamTrans and Caltrain both face steep budget gaps, both agencies had conservatively budgeted for the loss of funds, Weinberg said.

“Our budget [released earlier this month] did not anticipate any of this money, so when the May revision came out it fell in line without pessimistic outlook,” he said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com


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