California bills would add transit questions to ballots

| 8/25/2008

With the fall elections approaching, two bills at the California statehouse would authorize transportation initiatives to be placed on certain ballots in the state.

The state’s Assembly and Senate voted to advance a bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk that would ask voters throughout the state whether to approve a nearly $10 billion bond proposal intended to help reduce congestion. The bonding would be used to help pay for a $42 billion transit system that will enable a 200 mph “bullet train” that could go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about two and one-half hours.

If approved by voters on the statewide ballot, the construction on the 800-mile track could begin as early as 2011. The bond initiative would be known to voters as Proposition 1.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, the measure – AB3034 – would ask voters whether to approve $9.95 billion in government bonds to help foot the cost for the high speed rail service.

Advocates say the high-speed train would significantly reduce pollution because nearly half of all pollution comes from motor vehicles. They also say that it would reduce the number of people driving by nearly 93 million drivers a year.

“High-speed rail is the best environmental alternative to help solve our state’s growing gridlock,” Galgiani said in a written statement.

Opponents say the project is a money drain on an already over-budgeted system. They cite the more than $40 billion price tag to complete the rail line to eventually connect San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego.

An alternative is to funnel as much as $120 billion to expand airports and highways, critics say.

Another bill that is nearing passage in the Senate would allow a proposed half-cent increase in the sales tax to go before voters in Los Angeles County. The money from increasing the county’s sales tax to 8.75 percent from 8.25 percent would be used to fund mass transit and road projects.

The proposed tax is expected to raise about $40 billion during the next 30 years. A two-thirds majority would be needed to authorize expansion of bus and rail, as well as a route linking downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, highway improvements, and local transportation needs.

Before it can be put on the county ballot, the Legislature must approve the bill – AB2321 – that would authorize its inclusion. If approved by the Senate, the bill would need to get final approval in the Assembly before heading to the governor’s desk.

But time is running out. The California Legislature is scheduled to adjourn their regular session on Sunday, Aug. 31.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor