Red ink stains green rhetoric

A state report encourages increased use of mass transit, but the governor's budget proposal denies the public transportation fund more than $1 billion. Plus: Transit Funding 101

GREEN CITY Environmentalists are pondering the state's seemingly schizophrenic approach to fighting climate change after a recent state report encouraging increased use of mass transit came out at the same time that the governor's budget proposal denies the state's public transportation fund more than $1 billion.

The California Air Resource Board's June 26 Draft Scoping Plan to combat global warming, released pursuant to Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, is at least the second major report this year to recommend expanding public transit. But the governor's latest spending plan redirects that sizeable chunk of money — gasoline tax revenue that voters who approved Prop. 42 in 2002 directed toward transportation projects and agencies — to help reduce the state's $17 billion budget deficit.

"There's a lot of misallocation of resources going on," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of the San Francisco nonprofit Livable Cities. "The governor on the one hand wants to say, 'You should all ride mass transit.' But on the other hand, he is taking away [transit] support from the state budget."

The governor's press secretary, Aaron McLear, said the budget proposal spares transit from cuts faced by other programs during these tough economic times.

"Funding for public transportation stays level in the governor's budget proposal. That's in the face of a $17 billion deficit. The fact that it remains level is better than a lot of cuts we've had to make," McLear said. "We wish we could increase it, because it certainly is something the governor believes in. But again, the state is facing a $17 billion shortfall. We can only spend the money that we have. There will have to be some tough decisions to be made."

The CARB plan calls for California to lead by example by encouraging state employees to take advantage of public transportation during their commutes. It notes that transportation accounts for 38 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions, most of which comes from cars and trucks, and that curbing these emissions is critical to reaching California's goal of reducing total emissions by 30 percent over the next 12 years.

"Overall I think this is headed in the right direction. For better or worse, this really does put California ahead of any other state if we fully implement this plan. Of course, having a good plan does not guarantee that it will be implemented, but this is a very serious attempt," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, of the state's global warming plan.

Yet he also said that reaching the plan's ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gases means people will have to drive less and use transit more, and that local governments will need to stop approving urban sprawl projects.

"The easy answer that most Americans would rather have is to keep driving just as much as always, but have alternative fuels. And that just is not going to work. AB 32 has a major land use change component. Is it enough? No, it is not. But it is at least an acknowledgment of what we have to do," Metcalf said. "Overall I'm pretty impressed, but they're not proposing enough land use change and they're not proposing transit funding increases. They are still unwilling to face facts about the role of the automobile and climate change."

Yet instead of increasing funds for mass transit, the governor has redirected billions of public transportation dollars into the general fund, maintaining status quo transit funding in the face of increased gasoline prices and the new climate change mandate.

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