With California now looking at a $22.5 billion budget deficit, one area Governor Newsom wants to tighten the strings is public transit. But transit heads and legislators say they're already saddled with a fiscal cliff and service cuts.  

Just before Thanksgiving, word leaked out that Bay Area transit agency heads were preparing “doomsday scenarios” for a “fiscal cliff” situation, and the Bay Area News Group was raising the specter of “No weekend BART, bus lines cancelled or a taxpayer bailout.” But that doomsday scenario was a hypothetical — they were just planning on what they would do if ridership did not return to pre-pandemic levels, and billions in funding was cut.

But now that California’s $100 billion budget surplus has turned into a $22.5 billion deficit, those funding cuts appear likely. And CalMatters reports that Newsom’s proposed budget slashes $2 billion away from public transit projects, which could lead to more service cuts, and projects being delayed even more than their usual, expected delays.

The cuts are detailed on page 105 of Newsom’s proposed 2023-24 budget (a document that is 148 pages long).  “While the Administration continues to prioritize transportation infrastructure, the budget problem makes reductions necessary to balance the state budget,” the document says. “As such, the budget proposed a net reduction of $2 billion over three years to future transit infrastructure funding.”

State Senator Scott Wiener, who takes selfies of himself riding public transit almost every single day (here’s today’s) is not at all pleased with these proposed transit cuts. “There are a lot of people in general, and a number of people in the Legislature, who are deeply concerned with the future of transportation given the fiscal cliff that agencies are going to experience in the next one to two years as federal emergency funds run out, but ridership has not fully rebounded yet,” Wiener tells CalMatters. “It could lead to significant service cuts, which is a downward death spiral for some of these agencies.”

We’ve currently got a $7 billion-a-year budget for public transit, and this proposed cut would snip that down to $5 billion, most of the cuts coming from “intercity projects,” which around here means projects for agencies like BART and Caltrain. CalMatters adds that Newsom’s proposed budget also calls for “A $200 million cut to bicycle and pedestrian programs,” and “delaying $350 million in funding to improve rail crossing safety from 2023-24 to 2025-26.”

The money could all be restored if the revenue situation improves, and given our whipsawing between deficit to surplus to deficit again these last few years, that would not be out of the question. And is it wise to cut transit funding when ridership is still down, or would that only hasten the whole “death spiral” process? That’s a theoretical debate, but we might find out how that theoretical would work out, because as Newsom’s budget stands now, we would indeed cut transit funding when ridership is still down.  

Related: Bay Area Transit Planners Fret Over ’Doomsday Scenario’ of Service Cuts Amidst Plummeting Ridership [SFist]

Image: Daniel Ramirez via Wikimedia Commons