Move LA visited Sacramento last week, where we discussed the many issues and bills we care about that are now being considered by a legislature that is currently controlled by a two-thirds Democratic majority in both houses. Uppermost on our list are Cap and Trade legislation, and four bills that would reduce the local voter threshold for transportation funding measures from two-thirds to 55 percent. We were attending a “Transportation Choices Summit” hosted by the Bay Area nonprofit TransForm, and at that event TransForm’s Jeff Hobson made one of the more stirring endorsements of the 55 percent legislation: “I believe in democracy and in majority rule, not rule by a minority,” he said, referring to the fact that the two-thirds requirement means that every “no” vote counts twice as much as a “yes” vote, thereby allowing the minority to rule. “But I am willing to settle for 55% not 51%.”

Move LA also testified at an Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on AB 1002, a bill that Move LA is co-sponsoring with TransForm and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which would levy a $6 vehicle registration surcharge with the revenues going to congestion reduction strategies including transit operations and discounted transit passes, bike and pedestrian projects, and competitive grant programs for sustainable community strategies. Transportation Committee Chair Bonnie Lowenthal recommended the bill to her committee, which supported it with a 9-6 vote. The bill is authored by former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.

The prospect of considerable Cap and Trade revenues combined with the prospect of a lower voter threshold for ballot measures to fund transportation projects and other local government services is fueling optimism in the Capitol. Legislative staff we spoke with went so far as to call this session potentially “transformational.” Finding new sources of funding for transit operations in order to expand service and keep fares low is a key Move LA goal this session. The following bills are also of special interest:

Cap and Trade (AB 574 and AB 1051): This discussion is centering around how Cap and Trade revenues should be allocated. A “cap” on emissions will be lowered every year by 2-3% with the goal of reaching 1990 GHG emission levels by 2020. Polluters can either reduce their emissions or buy tradable credits from other polluters who have reduced emissions, thereby generating revenues estimated at somewhere between $1-$3 billion per year in the near term and much more in out years — though no one can predict the success of this program. Since 40% of GHG emissions come from the transportation sector in California it’s assumed that 40% of the money will be allocated to clean transportation. AB 574 (Lowenthal) would fund transportation network and demand management, public transportation including operations, maintenance, complete streets, bike and pedestrian safety, safe routes to schools, development and adoption of plans and policies to implement regional plans, and community infrastructure to support transit-oriented development. AB 1051 (Bocanegra) would fund these projects as well as affordable housing and energy efficiency improvements to existing affordable housing — acknowledging that transportation needs are driven in large part by where people want and can afford to live and therefore affect transportation sector emissions.

A total of eight bills have been introduced to lower the voter threshold to 55% for funding measures for a variety of projects and services, and four include transportation (three of them for both capital and operating): SCA 4 (Liu) and SCA 8 (Corbett) would reduce the threshold for transportation projects only, while SCA 11 (Hancock) is a broader lowering of the threshold for transportation as well as other projects and services. ACA 8 (Blumenfield) would lower the local voter threshold for bonds proposed by transportation agencies, cities and counties but would not include operating costs. Surveys done in 2009 show that more voters support reducing the threshold for a variety of projects and services and, interestingly, that only about a third of all voters know that a “special purpose” tax or bond measure — one that specifies what will be funded, as Measure R did — requires a two-thirds vote.

SB 1 (Steinberg) would create Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities that would be able to use tax increment financing — which dedicates future increases in property tax revenues to finance improvements and projects that will help bring about increases property values and therefore tax revenues — in the half mile radius of transit stations and along high frequency bus corridors.

SB 391 (DeSaulnier) would create a $75 recording fee for real estate transactions to create a trust fund to be used for housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households. This would help replace the $1 billion for affordable housing that redevelopment generated annually until it was ended by Governor Brown last year, and to replace the revenues from affordable housing bonds, which have been mostly used up.

AB 1194 (Ammiano) would require that the existing Safe Routes to School Program be funded by an annual appropriation of at least $46 million. Funding for the current program, which has proven enormously popular and effective, was to be consolidated into a group fund for many kinds of projects.

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