Prop. 91 still needed to shield transit funds

Op-ed article, Daily News, January 30, 2008

(Co-authored by Southern California Transit Advocates executive secretary Dana Gabbard.)

How often have you looked over the list of propositions on the ballot and felt that what we really needed was one that lets you vote "yes" on "no"?

Well, through an odd set of circumstances, California voters are getting the chance on Tuesday to do something along those lines on Proposition 91.

But the situation isn't merely an excuse for humor at the absurdities of the political games played in Sacramento. Passage of the measure would address a vital, long-standing problem with the status quo in California governance - allowing expediency to trump sensible long-term investments.

Proposition 91 is the result of insider gamesmanship that went awry, resulting in the measure getting on the ballot when it had only been intended to be a bargaining chip. Adding to this "Alice in Wonderland"-like situation, the proponents are now urging a "no" vote, claiming their own measure is now "unnecessary."

We disagree.

Proposition 91 may have made it to the ballot by accident, but on its merits, it deserves passage. And passage would send a clear message to the powers that be in Sacramento to stop raiding transit funds to fill budget shortfalls.

In March 2002, California voters passed Proposition 42, which dedicated the sales tax on gasoline for transportation purposes. However, the Legislature promptly took advantage of a loophole to divert those funds to other purposes.

In November 2006, voters passed Proposition 1A, which the Legislature placed on the ballot and promoted as a "fix" to the loophole in Proposition 42. Yet public transit funds were once again used for other purposes in this year's state budget.

California voters have proven by their actions that they understand the need to preserve and improve public transportation. The Legislature and the governor have proven by their actions that they cannot be trusted to honor the mandate of California's voters.

The time has come to remove the politicians' ability to divert these critical funds. Proposition 91 would completely close the Proposition 42 loophole that has been exploited by the Legislature and the governor. It would send a firm message that these funds - and all other transit dedicated funds - are off limits for anything other than the purposes the voters intended. And it would show elected officials that that fiscal hocus-pocus against transit funding, by whatever means, is no longer a viable option to close the structural budget gap. We must ensure that vitally needed investments in mobility - essential to California's long-term economic prosperity - are made.

In a recent memo to the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County CEO William Fujioka estimated that Sacramento could divert $61 million in state transportation funding for Los Angeles County in the next year's budget as part of the "fiscal emergency" that the governor has declared. That's because there is still enough of a loophole remaining after the passage of Proposition 1A. Only the passage of Proposition 91 would assure that doesn't happen.

The past few years have been a disaster for transit funding. Proposition 91 is desperately needed to protect public transit from the repeated raids on transit funds that have occurred as part of the rough and tumble of state budget negotiations.

Enough is enough! Voters need to vote yes on Proposition 91 on Tuesday.

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