Gov. Newsom Faces Backlash Over Dedicating Transportation Funds to ‘Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions’

October 24, 2019 Updated: October 24, 2019

After Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to dedicate more than $5 billion of annual state transportation spending toward efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions last month, critics have accused the California governor of diverting funds meant for fixing roads to rail projects.

In the order (pdf), Newsom directed the state to use the money “for construction, operations and maintenance to help reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

This would “reduce congestion through innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation” and “fund transportation options … such as transit, walking, biking and other active modes,” according to the order.

In an Oct. 23 opinion article, Dan Walters of CalMatters wrote, “Newsom seems to misunderstand the importance that Californians attach to transporting themselves and their families and how muddled policy pronouncements can backfire.”

“[H]e shares the road with millions of Californians who must cope with ever-increasing congestion, poorly maintained pavement and sky-high fuel prices,” wrote Walters.

The money would originate from SB-1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act, a 2017 law that allows California to raise gasoline taxes for 10 years for transportation funding. A ballot measure in 2018 aimed to repeal the controversial law but failed to pass, with 43 percent of the vote in favor and 57 percent against.

On Oct. 1, the California Department of Transportation released a 200-page proposal (pdf) that reportedly included some of the changes that Newsom’s executive order would implement.

The proposal, labeled the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program, or ITIP, recommended that some highway projects be deleted or delayed while a new rail project was added.

CalTrans Spokesman Matt Rocco said the ITIP “looks at routes that connect population centers and funds projects that help mobility.” It also ensures that the projects follow all environmental laws and makes sure that the land is available to complete the project, among other goals, he said.

“On three projects, one on the 46 and two on the 99, we pulled funding from those [project] phases,” said Rocco. “I want to make it perfectly clear we aren’t cancelling the projects. The project hasn’t been defunded. It’s one of the pre-construction phases that had been defunded. It’s really a delay because it will be available in the next cycle.”

State Republicans have accused Newsom of shifting resources away from the road repairs that voters expected when they rejected Prop 6 last year.

“This is theft of our gas taxes by executive order,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno). “Voters approved SB-1 with the promise that our crumbling highways would get the attention they deserve. Instead of building capacity, our gas tax funds are being siphoned off to fund Newsom’s favored pet-projects.”

Rocco told the Epoch Times that claims of a diversion of funds from SB-1 to other non-related projects are not based in fact.

“The assertion that this is something new or that the executive order has changed something to our commitment is not correct. Funding of the rail project and other projects have always been there. No money is being diverted,” said Rocco.

In fact, Rocco said, rail projects fall under the purview of SB-1. The ITIP, which is funded by the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is also funded partially by SB-1 funding, Rocco explained. Roughly 20 percent of the bill was dedicated for rail and mass transit.

“In SB-1, it’s about $5 billion a year, split roughly between local and state roads and projects. However, it was never meant to be just a highway bill. It’s a transportation bill. Although the vast majority goes to highways and the maintenance of our assets, a large percentage of it is dedicated to improvements in rail, mass transit, projects that support pedestrians and bicycling access to our highways and roadways.”