The flair up over moving transportation funds from fixing road projects to alternative transportation modes to fight climate change has the distinct feel of a bait and switch on the public even though the Newsom Administration denies the charge.
Last month, Governor Newsom signed an executive order to “leverage the more than $5 billion in annual state transportation spending for construction, operations, and maintenance to help reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce green house gas emissions associated with the transportation sector.”
Among the items cited in the executive order was to reduce congestion by encouraging people to get out of their cars and fund transportation options such as transit, walking and biking.
Critics say the money cited in the executive order comes from revenue raised by the gas tax increase of 2017, SB 1. Voters affirmed the use of the tax money for roads in no uncertain terms when they rejected Proposition 6 the next year, an attempt to repeal the tax.
The rhetoric during that campaign from the government and its allies was an affirmation to use the money for roads.
The California State Transportation Agency insists that SB 1 money is protected and that fixing roads is the agency’s top priority.
Others don’t buy it.
Shawn Yadon, CEO of the California Trucking Association argued, “If the effect of the executive order is to divert funds from road and bridge repairs, these projects will once again be placed on the back burner, leading to increased congestion and unsafe roads for all motorists.”
Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron said, “It’s time to use this money appropriately and stop the Newsom administration’s bait-and-switch.”
State actions back up the critics. The administration is putting off some road fixes while intending to spend more on alternative transit. Projects to widen highways in the Central Valley and San Luis Obispo have been set aside for now with the money earmarked for those projects to be used elsewhere to meet the climate change challenge.
There is no question what is going on—more engineering by government planners to dictate how Californians should live in the way of the infamous road diets. You know about road diets, sliming road corridors down a lane to make room for bicycle and or walking paths. The plans set commuters stewing that produced a wave of recriminations against local public officials.
State transportation authorities can expect the same when word gets out about the priority and money shift. Using road repairs as a reason to raise taxes then divert funds to other projects feels like a double cross. Even if the specific dollars for other projects didn’t come from SB 1 taxes, the road fix tax money was supposed to be added to current road funds, not substitute for them.
The problem for the governor and the transportation agencies is that this goes deeper than spending choices. It undercuts trust in government and certainly qualifies as a bait and switch.