Falling Revenue Leads to Massive Cut in California’s Transit Funding

Faced with plummeting gasoline tax revenue, state transportation officials have announced plans to cut funding for road and transit projects by $754 million over the next five years — the greatest reduction in two decades.

The 38% decrease approved by the California Transportation Commission means that “almost every county in California that relies on this source of funding for projects that improve traffic and air quality will have to cut or delay projects indefinitely,” said Lucy Dunn, chairwoman of the commission. She warned of “even more draconian cuts next year” if funding sources under consideration by lawmakers do not improve transportation finances.

The commission allocates money raised through the state gasoline excise tax to counties for inter-city rail, state highway improvements and county transit projects. The rate of the tax is tied to gas prices, which have been dropping. Each penny reduction in the gas tax decreases funding for state transportation projects by some $140 million a year.

Because of the funding cut, the state for the first time in a decade was asking counties to terminate some of the 200-plus projects previously offered funding. Past cuts have resulted only in projects being delayed, said Susan Bransen, chief deputy director for the commission.

Local agencies have until next month to come up with a list of projects to be deleted or delayed. For L.A. County, $191 million in road and rail projects potentially could be delayed or terminated — including $129.4 million allocated for the purchase of light rail vehicles, $7 million for a Burbank Airport/rail station pedestrian bridge project, and money for the widening of two stretches of Route 138.

Because many counties match state funds with revenue raised by local transit taxes and federal dollars, the cuts could have a large negative effect on the state’s economy, according to Jim Earp, a commissioner and member of the California Alliance for Jobs. “We’re talking about projects in the billions of dollars, which is tens of thousands of construction jobs, let alone how it filters down into other aspects of the economy,” Earp said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has urged state lawmakers to end the gridlock in negotiations over new taxes and fees for transportation projects. Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said of the state panel’s action, “This is our call to take the issue seriously and commit to protecting our infrastructure.”

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