Transportation funding legislation advances—but leaves some in the dust

by Chanell Fletcher, Associate Director
March 30, 2017

California is suffering from a serious shortfall in transportation funding. Two years ago, Governor Brown called for a special legislative session to address this with what would have been the state’s largest transportation funding increase in decades. Though the special session ultimately ended without a deal in place, the need continues to grow.

Now, a new bill nears passage, and it has some major improvements.

But an eleventh-hour change from the trucking lobby is posing a grave threat to air quality. We are particularly concerned about what it could mean for communities who have already suffered from pollution for too long. You can help: Call your State Senator and Assemblymember to say NO to this threat. Find their info here.

Our goals are clear

Throughout these transportation funding negotiations, ClimatePlan and our partners have aimed for this legislation to do three things:

– Align with the state’s climate goals,
– Provide direct benefits to disadvantaged communities, and
– Provide significant investments for public transit and active transportation.

In the current legislative session, Senator Beall’s transportation funding bill, SB 1, has moved forward as the primary vehicle to address this. It proposes to invest billions in transportation.

But how would those billions be spent?

ClimatePlan and our partners have had serious concerns. In February, we sent a letter to the Legislature saying that we would oppose this deal until our key concerns around equity, transit, and climate were met.

A new deal boded well

Yesterday, the Governor and key leaders in the Legislature unveiled the revised plan at a press conference. While language has not been released, we’ve heard that the package includes the following:

– Nearly 20% of the funding would go toward improving and expanding public transit. This would double the amount for transit from the last ten-year program the Legislature adopted.

– $100 million per year for the Active Transportation Program. This would help address the $1 billion need to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in communities across the state.

– $25 million per year would go to local and regional governments for planning grants to implement state law SB 375, so that good land use planning reduces the need to drive and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

These are all steps in the right direction. We’re encouraged that this transportation funding package could help get the state on track to achieve its climate goals, while building more sustainable, equitable, healthy communities….

But wait.

Last-minute attack on air quality

Now, at the eleventh hour, the California Trucking Association was able to add language to the legislation that would prevent the California Air Resources Board from adopting more stringent regulations on the freight industry to retire and replace older polluting diesel trucks. This could have severe implications for air quality, especially for communities adjacent to freeways and ports.

This would throw people in some of the state’s poorest communities—where too many children already suffer from serious asthma—under the bus. Or should we say under the truck?

No legislation should stop our state from improving Californians’ air quality, improving health, and saving lives.

Here are some of the concerns that our partners have expressed:

“This package is a big step in the direction of better, safer, and more affordable transportation options for Californians. But this last-minute agreement to let poor communities continue to suffer the brunt of freight-based pollution is not acceptable.”
— Jeanie Ward-Waller, Policy Director, California Bicycle Coalition

“This bill has come a long way, and we’re pleased that it now includes a reasonable amount of money for public transit. But it also throws disadvantaged communities under the bus by exempting trucking from some vital air pollution regulations. We can’t support a deal that sacrifices public health for public transportation — California needs both.”
— Josh Stark, Policy Director, TransForm

“This issue not only has no place in this funding package, but will also exacerbate the poor air quality our most low-income residents living next to trucking routes and ports experience in their daily lives. The health and safety of our most vulnerable Californians is not a cost we’re willing to pay to fund fixing our roads and transit systems.”
— Tony Dang, Executive Director, California Walks

ClimatePlan will continue to work with our partners toward a bill that improves transportation and supports sustainable, equitable communities—and keeps the state on track to improve air quality and health for all Californians.

You can help: Call your state Senator and Assemblymembers to say NO to this threat. Find their info here.

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