In a resounding victory for those who provide and those who depend on public transit in California, the State Supreme Court late yesterday rejected the Schwarzenegger Administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling that annual raids on transit funding are illegal.
By declining to accept the Petition for Review filed by state officials, the high court upheld the ruling of the Third District Court of Appeal that recent funding diversions violated a series of statutory and constitutional amendments enacted by voters via four statewide initiatives dating back to 1990.
“By denying the state’s appeal, the Supreme Court has affirmed once and for all what we always maintained was true: that it’s illegal to shift dedicated state transit funds away from transit agencies and their riders,” said Joshua Shaw, Executive Director of the California Transit Association and lead plaintiff in the case. “This decision validates our position that this practice has been illegal since even before 2007, and that the definition of mass transportation adopted by lawmakers since then to mask these diversions is illegal.”
Public transit officials now hope to work with the Administration and Legislature to restore those funds taken since the Association filed the initial lawsuit in October, 2007, on the heels of the 2007-08 state budget package that raided $1.19 billion from the Public Transportation Account (PTA). Since that agreement, more than $3 billion in transit funding has been re-routed to fill holes in the General Fund.
Although the courts agreed that transit funding raid is illegal, it is not clear whether that will translate into any actual funding restoration by the state. However, any state funding restoration will help transit riders.
The loss the State Transit Assistance fund not only puts pressure on Bay Area agencies, but also throughout the state. In Calaveras County (Sierra foothills east of Stockton), the transit agency there cut service by 40% and eliminated its regional connection to the Central Valley in Lodi. Over there, the service cut impact is not just forcing riders to spend extra minutes waiting for a bus, but actually make it virtually impossible to access essential shopping and medical services. The only regional connection in Calaveras County now is through the adjacent Amador County, which still operates a bus line into Sacramento. Amtrak and Greyhound are not available in those counties.
In Orange County, the transit agency there made drastic cuts earlier this year and an additional 30% cut is proposed for March next year. Although Orange County is urbanized and has huge transit needs, it is also very politically conservative. The politicians there have no problem with more freeway widening (which are quite wide already), but have a false perception that residents there do not need mass transit. Fortunately, Steven Chan, a Silicon Valley transplant, has started a transit blog there to advocate for better transit in Orange County.