Transportation budgets adopted by the city and by the state

Transportation budgets adopted by the city and by the state
"BUDGETARY FLOW OF CALIFORNIA STATE FEES AND TAXES DESIGNATED FOR TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES PROPOSED FOR THE 2022-23 FISCAL YEAR PROPOSED FOR THE 2022-23 FISCAL YEAR" Zoom way way in if you want to try to find the comparatively tiny Active Transportation Program that funds some street safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists throughout the state.

Over the past couple months, I've blogged about both the City of Alameda and the State of California's budgets for transportation safety improvements — specifically for people on foot, bike, wheelchair, scooter, or stroller. Now that this "season" of public-sector budgeting is coming to an end, here's a brief overview of how active transportation came out: could have been substantially better, although could have also been worse.

In Alameda

At its June 18 6:59 p.m. meeting, Alameda City Council voted 4 out of 4 to approve the consent calendar, including adopting the city's mid-cycle budget:

  • The adopted budget was exactly as originally presented by staff to Council at its May 21 budget workshop. I've previously blogged about this budget as an "insufficient first draft" and about the dynamics of a "decision by the Mayor to not open the door to a discussion that could have resulted in using any of [the nearly $30 million dollar] residual fund balance and a decision by the City Manager to present the city's overall transportation programs as not needing any additional resources."
  • Bike Walk Alameda's board wrote in to the June 18 meeting asking "it’s still unclear to us why, if Staff is sufficiently-resourced, the broader Neighborhood Greenways project looks to be delayed two or more years."
  • Also still unclear is whether the City of Alameda is equipped to apply to all relevant infrastructure funding opportunities. Bloomberg recently reported on this as a challenge facing cities across the country, writing that
The [Inflation Reduction Act] presents a particularly formidable grant-writing gauntlet for cities. The landmark legislation contained 77 different sets of federal grants from five different agencies — a significant wall of paperwork for towns that may already be struggling with finding funding for existing programs or initiatives.
  • To quote one of the experts interviewed in the Bloomberg article: “We call it a crisis of opportunity." Is Alameda taking full advantage of the now-or-never opportunities of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law?
  • But the moment has passed for asking questions like this about the City of Alameda's staffing, consultant budgets, and project budgets. For now, we'll just have to hope that when next fiscal year is approaching, Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft will be more interested in hearing candid and complete answers to these sorts of questions — or that November's City Council election will produce a subset of 3 councilmembers who are more committed to pro-actively and systematically improving transportation safety, infrastructure, and climate readiness in Alameda.

In California

California's state budget is so complex that elected officials barely begin to understand its mechanics before they are ushered out of office by term limits — I won't claim to understand even a fraction of the whole. Even just the topic of transportation in California is a complex maze of funding sources and accounts and trust funds (that chart at the top of this page is only a partial visualization of how billions of dollars course through this maze!)

"The state's Active Transportation Program is threatened with cuts and it's worth saving — including for Alameda's Stargell Avenue" is what I blogged about one extremely specific state-level program on May 29. Here's what's happened since then:

  • Almost immediately afterwards on May 29, CalBike announced that:
The legislature’s budget proposal, released today, rescinds the deep cuts to the Active Transportation Program (ATP) proposed in the Governor’s Budget and plans to backfill those cuts with state highway funding.
  • That back-and-forth volleying of the governor's office and the legislature is now complete, and the final budget for the Active Transportation Program is neither as bad as originally proposed by governor's office nor as good as counter-proposed by the legislature. CalBike just announced that:
The final budget, announced over the weekend, restores $100 million in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, with another $100 million promised for 2025-2026. The remaining $400 million could be restored by future appropriations, leaving the door open for future growth of the program.
  • CalBike added this detail about where the partially restored funding for ped/bike safety improvements is coming from and where future funding will likely come from:
The $100 million restored in the current budget comes from the General Fund rather than our state transportation funds. As California transportation dollars continue to surge with federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, state leaders have made bold claims about how much highway funding already supports active transportation on Caltrans projects. CalBike will hold them accountable to those claims by pushing for passage of Senator Scott Wiener’s Complete Streets Bill, SB 960. The Complete Streets Bill is a critical step toward mandating implementation of biking, walking, and transit facilities on state highways.
To read between the lines, Caltrans leadership cares mainly about auto-oriented highway projects. They refused the legislature's attempt to shift a fraction of highway funds from auto-only projects to restore the ATP; they only relented when the legislature moved money from the state's general fund into the ATP. (The state's general fund probably being the most prized possession in all of Sacramento, since it's so flexible but also so finite.)

The leadership of Caltrans also likes to talk about how bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders will benefit from some of the $1.2 trillion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law... but they don't want to be required to actually do so in the details of the street and highway projects that Caltrans actually designs and builds. In 2019, Governor Newsom vetoed SB 127 passed by the legislatureto set actual requirements for Caltrans to implement "complete streets" — hopefully Senator Wiener will have better luck with SB 960 this time.

Different specifics, but some similar patterns

The budget of Alameda and California are different — with different revenue sources that follow different ups and downs. The governor and legislature just had to negotiate some targeted cuts due to state-level taxes being lower than previously forecast, whereas the City of Alameda is entering this coming fiscal year with a budget surplus that remains untapped. It's not useful to make comparisons that are overly broad.

But two somewhat similar patterns can be found at both the state-level and here in Alameda:

  • an indifferent attitude from many (but not all) leaders about funding active transportation projects and pro-actively managing portfolios of active transportation projects to stay on timelines and meet overall policy objectives
  • a general awareness and talk about the huge amount of federal funds that are available, but a lack of organizational commitment to systematically pursue all of those funds in direct support of active transport and climate change goals

I'll send in my membership dues to CalBike and my thanks to Senator Wiener's office for continuing to advocate on these topics in Sacramento, while here in Alameda, let's hope for the city's leaders to ask systematic questions and actually want to hear the answers to those questions when the budget process eventually begins for Fiscal Year 2025 - 2026.