What Happens Now?
No matter what proposition or which candidate you may have voted for, I think many will agree if nothing else, it has been an interesting election season. As the General Manager of County Connection, I am often asked these days: What will the election possibly mean for public transit? The short answer is: We really don’t know, yet.
Overall, for transit the election is a mixed bag. In the Bay Area, BART’s Measure RR passed with over 71% of the vote in favor. This means BART will be able to raise much of the funding it will need to rehab its aging system. Users of BART will benefit greatly from this. Locally, Santa Clara County passed a sales tax measure that will support both roadway improvements, as well as transit improvements. AC Transit was able to renew an existing parcel tax that has long supported popular bus routes throughout the inner East Bay. However, for us here in Contra Costa County, our Measure X just barely failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote needed to pass. Thus, the projects and programs for all modes of transportation that the measure would have supported are going to be delayed in many cases.
At the state level, there were no transportation measures among the many state propositions on this year’s ballot. Moreover, the state legislature will look very much like the last state legislature. So, I do not anticipate any major changes in state transportation policy approaches in the next two-year session.
We could, however, see further legislation regarding transportation technology developments. Activity towards autonomous vehicles is picking up in California and the legislature may want to start doing what is reasonable to support that. Also, it would not be a surprise to see the legislature work to solidify and shore up the state cap and trade programs. These programs have the potential to provide significant assistance to public transportation programs. On a less than positive note, given that the new legislature looks similar to last one, I do not anticipate that we will see a large transportation funding package emerge from it. This remains a heavy lift – particularly the debate on how to pay for such a package.
Finally, we arrive at the federal level. This is going to be interesting to watch and perhaps hard to predict. First off, a current federal transportation authorization was just enacted late last year. Thus, we have nearly four years of authorization left. So, on one hand, very little needs to happen, if only to maintain the status quo for now. However, while we have four more years of federal transportation authorization, the main funding source of that authorization, the Highway Trust Fund, is projected to go broke within two years or so. If that holds true, the new congress and President will have to come to an agreement about how to tackle this funding shortfall.
So far, it is looking like it could be an interesting set of debates. President Elect Trump has talked in broad terms of a 10-year trillion-dollar infrastructure package. What portion – if any – of this would be marked for public transit is not known. However, both congressional leaders (Senator McConnell, and Speaker Ryan) have not yet warmed to the idea of making infrastructure a funding priority. Any of this will likely run up against deficit reduction talks in Washington.
So, as you can see, much remains at stake for public transit after this election. It will likely be months, if not years, before we learn how the 2016 election ultimately affects public transit.