Thursday, August 1, 2013

Inland Empire transit and California government waste

The Transit Coalition's future vision of mass transit in the Inland Empire is not an unaffordable dream. It could be a welcoming reality if officials from the local, state, and federal level work together to control unnecessary government waste. The fact of the matter is that state officials up in Sacramento must take the responsibility of getting California's transportation infrastructure to a stable and robust level. We've seen a lot of talk, and to be fair, progress has been made at the local level. However, it is without question that in order for us to have a robust transit system all throughout the Inland Empire and Southern California, state government programs must be streamlined and reformed.

Other states have done it:
As mentioned earlier this week, The Transit Coalition checked out the transportation infrastructure in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and other regions in the western United States. While taxes are lower in these states, their transit systems are blossoming. By the end of the decade, there will be several options to get around the Salt Lake region between Provo and Ogden.

Go to Laughlin and check out the Needles Highway corridor linking the city with the I-40 freeway. Why is the highway segment through Nevada in far better shape than the California segment? How about the inspection stations travelers pass through as they cross state borders. The Yermo inspection station near Barstow is long overdue to be renovated. In contrast, Utah's freeway port of entry stations utilize modern facilities. Meanwhile, Southern California continues to be mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country while residents pay some of the highest taxes.

Tolling our way out of traffic:
There are a number of proposed toll lane projects all throughout Southern California which will serve as money fountains to fund local transportation projects because state money is being displaced elsewhere. The Riverside County Transportation Commission states this:

Some drivers question why tolls are needed, in light of gasoline taxes and retail sales taxes that are charged. In the past, gas taxes were enough to fund transportation improvements. Over time, though, the power of gasoline taxes has eroded. Since 1993, gas taxes have remained the same, with neither federal or state taxes tied to inflation.  In addition, with more fuel efficient vehicles on the road, drivers are paying less and less in gas taxes.

http://www.sr91project.info/tolled-express-lanes
http://www.i15project.info/tolling.php

The problem with that statement as California state officials well know is that other states like Utah and Nevada have the resources to expand their transit and highway networks in relation to the population demand. They too have more fuel efficient cars and their fuel taxes are even lower than California's. This is what happens when taxpayer money is not mispent or wasted. As mentioned, congestion pricing in the high occupancy lanes does work, but tolls are no substitute for state transportation tax funding. California's ongoing failure to deal with its transportation network at a statewide level is a disgrace. That can be called NIMBY obstructionism.

It's true that we have an expensive high speed rail project breaking ground in the Central Valley, but the statewide rail network will be just one piece of the pie.

Getting Southern California Moving...
Fair-minded individuals and many at the local level know that there are numerous ways to solve this problem, but our state lacks the courage to stand up for it. Here are some statewide fiscal controversies that need to put into perspective and up for debate and action:
  • Wages: Set public employee wages and benefits to match the salaries and retirement programs offered in the marketplace. Whose going to stand up against the special interests? This is no longer a labor rights issue; we simply cannot afford a continued "Gold Rush" of overpaid positions. Officials need to check out what's going on in the other states and the private sector to stop the waste.
  • Consolidate duplicate agencies. At the local level, Riverside County has the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Riverside County Transportation Department. Let's debate a potential consolidation. At the state level, why are there multiple separate tax collection agencies? To name a few: The state Board of Equalization, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Employment Development Department.
  • Business-friendly policies: Get businesses to come back and invest in the Golden State to build up the marketplace economy without jeopardizing the environment or disrupting neighborhoods through urban sprawl.  
  • School funding spending: Police the funds going to California schools to ensure that the funding actually reaches the classroom, not a special interest. California taxpayers spend much more per pupil, but just like our transportation system, quality is worse than in several other states.
  • Stopping fraud: Set a zero-tolerance law on fraud with state programs, especially worker's comp. Impose a mandatory floor on prison time for defrauding the state and any of its programs. If the state wants to stop theft of its money, that will stop it.
  • Prisons and jails: Speaking of prisons, give the special interests a "get out of jail free" card and get them out of the system. Reducing expenses by matching salaries to those offered in the marketplace, privatizing facilities and camps would help address California's jailhouse problems and cut waste. Mobile convicts in jail also should be active in some form of non-punitive prison labor so that taxpayers are not giving them free housing and meals.
If public officials want funding, there it is. That's a prime way we can afford to build out our transit infrastructure and rid Southern California of chronic traffic congestion. Debating and adopting these ideas will do it. However, the state as it is now has little will to man up to this situation. Pandering to the special interests seems to be an easier way to do the job.

In the mean time, Southern California is mired in a substandard transportation system. It's long past due to reverse this trend.

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