Brown's budget includes big gains for transportation

Joshua Stark Headshot

jerry brown at podiumYesterday Governor Brown unveiled his proposed 2018 budget. It is a sprawling document (here’s the 272-page summary), with the Governor’s patented prudence throughout (including a cute lavender piggy bank on page 5 for emphasis). TransForm’s first review of the proposal found several transportation and climate investments that may help our state and our neighbors; here’s what we’ve found.

SB 1’s first full year of impact

In all, the budget proposes $21.4 billion of transportation investments through its myriad pots and programs. And as usual, most of these dollars will go toward helping to maintain our hundreds of thousands of miles of roads. However, over one fifth comes from new revenues from last year’s huge transportation funding package, known as SB 1.

Though not perfect in our eyes, SB 1 funding is a monumental step in the right direction for transportation funding. The Governor’s budget projects that SB 1 will raise $4.6 billion in new revenues this year alone. Over $800 million of these new revenues would be directly invested in transit and active transportation projects and operations:

  • $330 million for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP)
  • $355 million for the State Transit Assistance Program
  • $100 million for the Active Transportation Program (to a total of around $220 million)
  • $36 million for commuter rail and intercity rail

In particular, the increase to the TIRCP results in dedicated investments for equity — a first for California’s traditional transportation funding programs. The TIRCP is a program of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, created to use greenhouse gas cap and trade revenues for projects that reduce GHGs. We have supported additional laws and policies that have strengthened and focused these investments, prioritizing investments in our most disadvantaged communities. In the case of the TIRCP, at least 25% of its revenues must be invested in ways that benefit disadvantaged communities. By also investing hundreds of millions annually from vehicle licensing fees, California is better aligning transportation funding with the urgent need to address climate change and inequality.

In addition to investments into existing programs, SB 1 also created a number of new programs. TransForm and our allies have been working to ensure that guidelines for these new programs (like the Solutions for Congested Corridors program) truly address the problems they were created to address, and do not leave us with even more pollution and unsafe streets. While we have met with mixed success in these conversations, we are continuing to push, and we remain pleased that SB 1 invests considerably more dollars into public transit, walking, and biking than ever before.

As large as SB 1 is, it still doesn’t completely catch us up on the gigantic maintenance and operations backlogs for transit and transportation agencies around the state — deferred maintenance alone is estimated to be over $67 billion. Despite this remaining hole, there’s a campaign under way to repeal the revenues from SB 1. That would throw us back to the days of upside-down budgets, persistent potholes, crumbling bridges, and outdated and infrequent trains and buses.

Climate Investments

California has invested over $6 billion dollars from the state’s landmark greenhouse gas cap-and-trade climate program into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) — a suite of projects and programs designed to reduce our need for fossil fuels and provide benefits to Californians throughout the state, with a percentage required for investing in and benefiting our most disadvantaged communities.

Transportation is the largest single source of climate pollution in California, so we have been pleased to see much of GGRF funding dedicated to clean transportation and sustainable planning. In particular, the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program, Low-Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP), and the TIRCP program mentioned above all improve transportation options, lower GHGs, and serve the needs of disadvantaged communities. Learn more and see a map of GGRF-funded projects at ClimateBenefitsCA.org.

Governor Brown did not make a proposal yesterday for investing the 2018 portion of GGRF revenues, and will instead unveil his plan during his State of the State address later this month.

However, as we noted above, the budget proposes an initial investment of $330 million into the TIRCP. If this allocation is passed in the final budget, this will be the third year in which the state has invested other dollars in this program. It is a good investment, and we’d like to see the same done for other GGRF programs like those mentioned above.

Overall and next steps

In all, Governor Brown’s 2018 proposed budget would put more money into public transportation, walking, and biking than any previous state budget. But this is by no means a done deal. We are still waiting to see the Governor’s proposed GGRF investments; the Legislature has yet to have their say; and the devil, as they say, is always in the details. There are also some things missing from this proposal that we would have liked to see, for example, larger investments in the Active Transportation Program and dedicated funding for student transit passes.

So, game on! The Governor’s proposal puts us in a very strong position, but we are still going to work hard for the best possible transportation budget to make California more vibrant, just, and connected. In other words: when life gives you lemonade, make limoncello!

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.