Stalling out on transportation? A roundup of the Governor’s latest budget proposal for California

May 17, 2016

The Governor’s new May budget revision is out, restating his budget priorities before he meets with Legislature leaders to create a final budget, and the biggest news overall is that the state’s projected revenue is down by $1.9 billion.

State Capitol

Capitol building, jjkbach/Flickr

For ClimatePlan’s work, the biggest concern is that transportation funding is failing to move forward: the Governor’s proposal just fixes roads instead of investing in climate-friendly options.

What else does the May Revision hold? Read on to find out. Thanks to our partners for their hard work and fast responses to the Governor’s proposal, compiled below.

Caution, or inaction?

Along with its reduced revenue projections — $1.9 billion less across the budget years 2014-2017, based on lower sales and income tax receipts — the May Revision sounds a clear note of caution:

“By the time the Budget is enacted in June, the economy will have finished its seventh year of expansion, two years longer than the average recovery. The next recession is getting closer — even if we cannot tell exactly when it will hit.”

Some ClimatePlan partners are concerned that putting the brakes on spending will mean missed opportunities for smart long-term investments in climate protection, health, transportation options, and the environment.

Summing it up, ClimatePlan’s Chanell Fletcher says, “There are many laudable pieces in the Governor’s proposal, particularly his support for affordable housing. We’re in a housing affordability crisis, and we look forward to working with our partners and state leaders to help the state tackle it. The state’s transportation budget should do more to address another crisis, too: climate change. Just fixing roads won’t get us there.”

“We need to invest in more sustainable solutions.”

Unaffordable housing is officially a problem

The Governor publicly acknowledged that high housing costs and homelessness are starting to impact his priorities for the state, said Housing California, and the May Revision, or Revise, included a long commentary on housing and local government.

“Unfortunately, the Revise did not include any new general fund expenditures for affordable development, but I see room for the Legislature to continue that conversation with the Governor,” said Shamus Roller from Housing California.

One important component of the May Revise is a statement of the Governor’s support for legislation to streamline approval of affordable homes. Specifically, this would require “by-right” land-use entitlement provisions for multifamily infill developments that include affordable apartments. This would help encourage the kind of development — compact and affordable — that is sorely needed across the state.

The Governor also expressed support for a $2 billion bond for housing for homeless people with mental illness. The Revision did not include a $1.3 billion proposal to support affordable housing for people with low incomes, though we hope this will come up in negotiations.

Read more on this from Housing California.

New transportation investment creaks to a halt

With no new commitments to invest in sustainable transportation, funding continues at $100 million for the misleadingly named “Low-Carbon Roads” program.

When this program was first introduced, it was excoriated by Public Advocates:

“Another objectionable proposal is the Governor’s $100 million allocation for so-called ‘low-carbon roads,’ e.g. road repaving and street light synchronization intended to increase traffic flow. The California Air Resources Board [and others have] said such projects may lead to more driving and therefore increase, not decrease greenhouse gases. By law, cap-and-trade auction revenues must be invested in projects that reduce emissions. Funding road projects with these dollars is not only legally questionable, it takes California in the wrong direction.”

Nothing about the program appears to have changed.

We need healthier options

While “fix it first” is a good approach, it cannot be the only one. Roads will not get us to climate protection — or healthy communities. We need major new investment in climate-friendly transportation: buses, trains, and safe space for walking and biking.

The California Bicycle Coalition’s Jeannie Ward-Waller said:

“We are disappointed that the Governor’s May Revised Budget reflects no changes to the proposed transportation allocations, despite the clear need to shift traditional transportation funding toward providing Californians better, safer, healthier, and cleaner travel options, especially for residents that can’t afford to drive. The Administration still directs the vast majority of the $16 billion for transportation to roads and highways, including $100 million of climate funds, with no new funds proposed for the state program dedicated to expanding walking and bicycling facilities.”

The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) also expressed concern about the lack of adequate funding for safe walking and biking.

CPEHN applauded some measures to address health in the Revision, but said it “continues to offer a ‘business-as-usual’ transportation plan at the expense of public health and active transportation.”

“Rather than divert funding above and beyond into the Rainy Day Fund to be used to balance future budgets, the budget should better invest in the long-term health and wellbeing of all Californians, including our poorest populations,” said CPEHN.

See more from CPEHN here.

One bright spot, said Gloria Ohland from Move LA, was the continuation of important priorities that could bode well for innovative programs. “The May Revision continues to prioritize funding for education, infrastructure, and sustainability,” which could be a positive sign, she said, for AB 2222, the proposed bill that would provide free or reduced-cost transit passes for students.

“We hope the priorities in the May revision will translate into priorities in the Legislature.”

Greening cities still a priority

Partners continued to strongly support funding for urban forestry and urban greening, including a proposed allocation from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in January’s budget. Read more here.

Here’s the Governor’s full budget summary.

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