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Sacramento Snapshot: Will California greenlight more funding for public transportation?

Editor’s note: Sacramento Snapshot is a weekly series during the legislative session detailing what Orange County’s representatives in the Assembly and Senate are working on — from committee work to bill passages and more.

With the June 15 deadline for the 2023-24 budget fast approaching, a group of legislators are scrambling to add more funding for public transportation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s projected budget — pitched as the state faces a deficit that could reach $31 billion — didn’t include any bailouts for the state’s distressed mass transit systems but it could “trigger cuts” to various transportation programs should California’s revenue dip even further.

For Metrolink, which most Southern California riders use as a way to get to work, Newsom’s version of the budget means a plan to fully restore service to 100% of pre-pandemic levels by the next fiscal year must be scrapped. Instead, the new goal is to hit 85% of pre-pandemic ridership, using about three dozen fewer trains per day, said Scott Johnson, Metrolink’s director of communications.

“State support is needed to rebuild ridership and help California achieve sustainable economic growth, along with reductions in transportation emissions and vehicle miles traveled,” Johnson said.

With less than two weeks to go until the budget deadline, a group of Democratic legislators — including state Sens. Catherine Blakespear and Josh Newman and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva — implored Newsom to restore $2 billion that he planned to cut from California’s rail capital program and provide funding for transit operations still hurting because ridership fell during the pandemic.

The legislators warn of a transportation doom loop, with cuts this year resulting in lower ridership that, in turn, leads to more service cuts in the future.

“Allowing the state’s transit systems to unravel, as they continue to recover and stabilize operations from pandemic ridership declines, would have long-term, possibly irreversible, devastating impacts on California’s transportation system and climate goals,” they said in the letter. “The resulting service cuts would lead to fewer mobility options for Californians, especially low-income transit-dependent riders, and increased driving, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the San Jose Mercury News reported, Daniel Villaseñor, Newsom’s deputy press secretary, said: “These budget issues are very difficult. However, the governor has signaled a willingness to work with the legislature to address this critical transit issue.”

In other transit news, the Senate unanimously OK’d a bill to survey transit riders who’ve experienced so-called ‘street harassment.‘ Results from the study, conducted in multiple languages, could help legislators and the governor as they decide how to allocate transit-related money.

“Street harassment has become a major issue across public transit agencies, not just here in California, but nationwide,” said Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, who sponsored the bill. “It’s no surprise we’re seeing ridership levels decline even as we recover from the pandemic.”

In other news:

• One of the many bills that passed ahead of Friday’s house of origin deadline was one from Assemblymember Diane Dixon, R-Newport Beach, that builds in protections for people with expired vehicle registration. The bill is meant to alleviate the financial burden on people who cannot afford vehicle registration fees by curtailing enforcement action so they can still use their cars for transportation.

• One bill that didn’t make it: an effort to restrict the use of police canines. From Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris, the bill would have prevented law enforcement from using police dogs for crowd control or to apprehend someone in most instances. While Jackson has said the bill was meant to end a practice that has “inflicted brutal violence and lifelong trauma on Black Americans and communities of color,” Republicans heralded the bill’s failure.

“Police K9s are a critical tool for law enforcement, and I am glad they will be able to continue protecting our California communities,” said Assemblymember Tri Ta, R-Westminster.

• The Senate passed legislation from Newman, D-Fullerton, requiring all K-12 schools to provide gender-neutral restrooms for students to use while school is in session. Schools already must allow students to use the restroom consistent with their gender, but this bill would expand the responsibility to provide gender-neutral facilities, an effort to “ensure the well-being of our LGBTQ+ and non-binary students and ensure safer school communities for everyone,” Newman has said.

Source: Orange County Register

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