BoE Vice Chair George Runner Wants to Kill Public Transportation

GeorgeRunner
George Runner

George Runner, former California Senator, husband of current California Senator Sharon Runner, and current elected member of the California Board of Equalization, is doing his best to kill public transportation in the state.

In an article in Saturday’s Sacramento Bee he opines that the state is wasting money on public transportation that nobody wants, and that therefore we should stop “diverting” public money to trains and buses. “The reality is most people don’t have positive opinions about public transit,” he says.

“Government needs to get with the times and recognize consumer trends,” writes Runner. That is, between slow service (which Runner neglects to mention is the result of years of funding car infrastructure while underfunding transit), unclean and unsafe conditions (underfunding, again), and ride-share companies scooping up potential transit passengers, California should just give up altogether and shift public transportation funds  . . . to roads. “We need roads, and we need to start investing in them again,” says Runner.

Never mind that there are people who rely on public transit now, and people who could not afford a car—or an Uber trip—even if they could access one. Technology will rescue us, says Runner, so we should just keep building roads and “stop wasting public dollars trying to get people to do things they’re just not interested in.”

In case there are any lingering doubts as to Runner’s true feelings about public transportation, note that he is co-sponsoring, with Senator Bob Huff (R-San Dimas), several ballot measures that aim to rid the state of the scourge of high-speed rail. One initiative hopes to stop the state from issuing any more bonds to raise money for high-speed rail, which is not the first and likely not the last time this strategy has been attempted. Every legislative session lately has seen a dead-in-the-water attempt to end high-speed rail funding, including a bill last year that would have removed it from the list of programs getting money from cap and trade. That bill, S.B. 6, was authored by Runner’s wife, Senator Sharon Runner.

The difference here is that this measure will try its luck with voters, rather than risk being killed in its first committee hearing the way S.B. 6 was.

The other initiative Runner is co-sponsoring, again with Senator Huff, seeks to reallocate any unused high-speed rail bonds to unspecified “water storage projects.” Water good, train bad! It is similar to a current bill still alive in the Assembly, A.B. 1866, from Assemblymember Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita).

However, as George Skelton points out in the L.A. Times, embedded within the ballot initiative is a constitutional amendment that would rewrite California’s water priorities, placing domestic and agricultural uses above all others. Note that, by putting this on the ballot, the authors sidestep the legislative requirement that any constitutional amendment be passed by a two-thirds vote. That is, it only takes a majority vote of the public to pass a constitutional amendment that would fundamentally refocus how the state allocates water.

In addition, this second initiative would remove the current requirement that water storage projects benefit the environment. So: water, uber alles, and to heck with environmental concerns!

All this on a November 2016 ballot that promises to be very, very long.

Meanwhile, Runner is looking forward to the next meeting of the State Board of Equalization, whose members will vote on a reduction in the gas tax. He sees nothing but good in low gas prices and low gas taxes. “The cut will be a welcome and much-deserved tax break for Californians, who currently pay more taxes at the pump than drivers in other states,” he writes.

He makes no mention of any of the unwelcome results of low gas prices. For the record, those include an increase in driving, which contributes to congestion and makes it harder to meet state climate change goals and is accompanied by a rise in traffic fatalities; a halt in recycling as prices for recycled goods drop; and not least the serious repercussions of declining transportation funding for all purposes, from public transportation to the roads Runner is so concerned about, and that is the topic of an oversight hearing of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee happening right now, as this is being written.

Forward-looking legislators have prevailed against similar misguided efforts. Let us hope that California voters will do the same, and reject these regressive initiatives.

  • Claude

    The 405 expansion, for example, is just the sort of boondoggle you were talking about. Way over budget and behind schedule and when it was done traffic was worse than before they started.
    And it only benefits those in the immediate corridor instead of helping everyone in California.
    As for the High Speed Rail, the construction contracts have all been signed at below estimates, and the estimates for construction of the Phase 1 project from LA to Frisco have been reduced from $38 billion to $34 billion.
    In addition, the Authority is contracting with the farmers along the right-of-way to excavate certain fields to obtain soil needed for construction fill, resulting in several large catch-basins to return storm run-off to the ground water. Lots of additional water being stored at no additional cost to taxpayers.
    Something for nothing seems like a good deal.

  • cyclezealot

    The guy is either a lobbyist for asphalt , off his rocker , or a masochist. Guess he hasn’t been on our Surfliner, or the Metro Link. During commute hours our line seems pretty crowded. There was a recent study by Cal trans. Like, Build a road and cars will come. more lanes only bring about more gridlock. The guy needs to retire and get out of public policy.

  • Melanie Curry

    I didn’t mention Runner’s party affiliation, and don’t think it’s
    relevant. Runner didn’t mention high speed rail in his rant against
    public transportation (see link); he was talking about public
    transportation in general, period. His initiative would undermine
    environmental controls on the way California allocates water–controls
    that are the result of years of work (by other people) to protect the
    state’s resources. The low cost of gas (again, see the links)
    contributes to more driving, more emissions, more crashes, more
    fatalities, and more congestion—so yes, I am arguing that gas needs to
    be more expensive, and I’m far from the only one who says so. At the very least, gas taxes should be going up, not down.

  • Melanie Curry

    I didn’t mention Runner’s party affiliation, and don’t think it’s relevant. Runner didn’t mention high speed rail in his rant against public transportation (see link); he was talking about public transportation in general, period. His initiative would undermine environmental controls on the way California allocates water–controls that are the result of years of work (by other people) to protect the state’s resources. The low cost of gas (again, see the links) contributes to more driving, more emissions, more crashes, more fatalities, and more congestion—so yes, I am arguing that gas needs to be more expensive, and I’m far from the only one who says so.

  • sojourner_7

    This guy Runner is a breath of fresh air. Finally some sanity in Sacramento! BART in particular has proven to be a case-study in how to spend maximum tax money for minimum results.

  • CentralCAEconomist

    What a self entitled rich scumbag.

  • Bryan

    What a slanted article. I realize this is an opinion piece but still. You twist words and motives to make Runner appear a villian. He doesn’t want to kill all transportation funding – he wants to kill the funding for the so-called high-speed rail. The amount of people that will actually service is NOT worth the cost. They severely underestimated the cost and want taxpayers to give them a blank check. And right now water should be a priority. It’s pathetic that we don’t have the infrastructure to store the water we do get. Instead of investing in something that will benefit all Californians, you want to invest in something that will serve a very small segment. You just see “republican” and call”foul.” If you’ve been paying attention to the things Runner gets behind, you can see he actually cares about making things easier for Californians. I don’t say that because he’s Republucan – there are plenty of “do-nothing” Republican and Democratic politicians. You’re actually arguing that low cost of gas is bad? You act as if people start driving all over the place because prices are down. “Gas is cheap – I think I’ll drive to LA today.” While it’s true cars in the road will increase, it is not proportionate to the benefit of lower prices to Californians. Learn to think for yourselves and rationally.

  • This bears watching since public sentiment is concerning the train is being sullied by numerous issues that could ultimately sink the proposal. However, at least the Federal stipulation that a structure usable by Amtrak be produced means that there is the potential to build it at a later date by incrementally upgrading the Amtrak San Joaquin service to be at least 125 MPH. That in turn will certainly drive demand for even faster.

  • Honestly, the long-distance public transit options are often cost just as much or more than driving and are frequently not time-competitive either.

  • Terry Rolleri

    Yeah, let’s get rid of BART and just let another 400,000 cars onto the bay bridge every day. Parking in SF? No problem. I’m going to go out and buy another car tomorrow.

  • Gustavo Woltmann

    Wait, what? Stop funding public transportation, and just build more roads? What about the millions of people who don’t have cars? Or who can’t afford gas for long distance commutes?

  • He’s out of touch, and his party is in the minority in the state senate. #ItWorksOut

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