Thursday, February 28, 2013

More unbelievable spending proposals from the state government

State transportation spending declines over 30% while government employee retirement benefits increase 25%. It's time to reverse this pattern.

A load of cash. A new report released by nonprofit California Common Sense shows that larger portions of the California state budget have increasingly been going toward state employee salaries, retirement benefits, and healthcare while state transportation spending has decreased a whopping 31% since FY 2007-2008. Ever wonder why those potholes take so long to get fixed? Other state services had similar cuts. Looks like services at the DMV won't improve anytime soon nor will recently cut school bus service be making a comeback through the near future. When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed FY 2013-2014 budget, he indicated that more money would be directed toward education, but the report shows the opposite.

The state is projected to take in over $10 billion more in additional revenue than from the 2007-08 fiscal year mainly due to the increased taxes, but state funding for many government programs will actually be lower due to increasing costs of health care and employee benefits. To be fair, the governor is credited for submitting a balanced budget and a special Legislative session will take place to debate the rising health care costs.

Robust debate is welcome, but the state must address this serious problematic spending trend head-on. According to the report, state spending on health care is up 62%. Employee compensation, up 16%. Employee retirement, up 25%. Debt obligations, up 24%. The most shocking increase is unfunded employee retirement benefits, up over 90% from $111.5 billion in FY 2007-08 to $211.4 billion in FY 2013-14. Even more alarming, to fund these employee accommodations, transportation spending is cut and taxes have risen. We are seeing a discouraging trend where the state government is spending less to serve the people of California and more on state employees, paid for by increased taxes. It's yet another reason why The Transit Coalition continues to question budget-related fare increases and object to transit cuts and tolls for carpools to use a high occupancy lane.

Speaking of HOT lanes, LA Metro is now permitting motorcycles to use the Metro ExpressLanes for free and without mandatory transponders. Metro's move is smart since motorcycles have long been considered an HOV for a variety of safety reasons. With non-registered motorcycles out of the congested general purpose lanes and into the HOT lanes, the freeways will have fewer instances of motorcycle lane splitting and will thus be safer to travel. Now, would OCTA and RCTC consider the same idea for the 91 Express Lanes? What about the other HOV's?

In related news, Metro opened the new I-10 HOT lanes last Saturday. The facility forms the culmination of a $210 million project funded by the federal government that also included the I-110 HOT lanes, which opened in November. Tolls for using the entire length of the lanes range from $4 to $7 depending on the time of day. Metro expects to spend $7 to $10 million to operate the lanes while gaining $18 to $20 million in revenue during the year-long demonstration. LA Streetsblog dissected one particular article that discusses the new lanes in a less-than-favorable light.

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