Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Schwarzenegger screws transit riders once again

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a gas swap deal that would have preserved sales tax on diesel fuel for transit operation.

In response to a state court ruling last year that sales taxes on fuel must first be used for public transportation, Schwarzenegger proposed to eliminate sales taxes on all fuel and replace it with excise taxes. That excise taxes would be used to reduce the state's budget deficit. Under that plan, drivers would see a slight reduction in fuel prices because the excise tax would be smaller than the sales tax.

As we all know, public transit all over California is facing huge fare hikes and service cuts because of the elimination of state funding as well as reduction in local funding. The Democratic legislature later approved a more moderate swap by only eliminating the sales tax on gasoline and keeping the sales tax on diesel. Through the diesel sales tax, $400 million would be made available to transit agencies statewide. Although that plan was still flawed, at least it would have addressed the immediate crisis.

However, Schwarzenegger decided to veto the smaller swap. In a letter to the state legislative leaders, he wrote: "Instead you are sending me a bill that provides no tax relief to consumers at the pump and raises taxes on commuter rail services. I cannot sign this flawed legislation as written."

It was wrong for the governor to propose a budget gimmick and tried to pass it as a benefit to people who drive. It was also wrong for him to portray himself as a green governor while forcing transit agencies to make deep cuts, especially hurting seniors and the disabled.

But what else could you expect from a Republican politician? The party's stubbornness over its twisted ideology is inconsistent with the will of California's voters on transportation issues. That's why California Transit Association and League of California Cities are looking at a state ballot measure to prevent future budget raids.

His repeated budget raids on transit truly evoke a scene from his first Terminator movie:

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