Battle for bond cash just beginning

When the Greater Bay Area and Southern California get into a good, old-fashioned political tug of war, the issue most often is how much northern water will make its way through the Central Valley to the populous Southland. That issue is likely to heat up again soon, as California risks another major drought next summer. But the latest North-South rivalry is occupied with grabbing the largest possible share of $2 billion approved for transportation enhancements by the voters in last year’s infrastructure bond package.

Led by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, 36 members of the Los Angeles-Orange County-Inland Empire delegation lobbied loudly to persuade the California Transportation Commission to adopt guidelines allocating at least three-fourths of the Proposition 1B pot for Southern California projects. Núñez argued that his region deserved the dominant share because 85 percent of the shipping cargo containers handled in California come through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And with some 82 percent of the state’s population, the Los Angeles region suffers California’s worst air pollution and highway congestion.

But fierce counterlobbying from officials in a rare alliance of Northern California, the Central Valley and San Diego resulted in the Transportation Commission holding the line for a more even distribution with an 8-1 vote. Núñez promptly vowed to change the final spending appropriations when individual projects are funded during next year’s budget process.

“We have no problem recognizing that Southern California ports require the lion’s share of the funding,” said Jim Wunderman, executive director of the Bay Area Council business advocacy group. But he added that the Núñez demands were neither fair nor reasonable, and The Examiner fully agrees. Bay Area citizens did not vote to pass the transportation bonds so they could get whatever crumbs Southern California left over. And the Southland legislators were not exactly there for us with open wallets when Bay Area commuters had to accept a $1 toll hike in order to get funding to completethe Bay Bridge rebuild.

Yet although the Bay Area is now going to get at least $640 million for much-needed transportation projects, none of us should be dancing in the streets. In an all-too-typical act of political expediency, the Transportation Commission attempted to placate everybody by irresponsibly throwing an “extra” $1 billion into the pot. That is hardly the kind of fiscal responsibility that will be needed for getting California through the $10 billion deficit projected for the next two years.

And even though this additional disbursement is supposed to give Southern California the minimum $150 million it was demanding, Núñez is still dissatisfied — because the new money is not quite as real as the bond funding. One-half of the supplementary $1 billion consists of transportation money already available for the next budget, and the other half would be expected from future transit revenues and federal grants.

So in other words, Sacramento has once again settled for a temporary feel-good fix that does little to resolve the underlying issue.

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