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BoE Vice Chair George Runner Wants to Kill Public Transportation

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.

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