The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Wednesday, June 11, 2003


Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

Sorry we've been down for the past few daze...buggy Apple server software!! That darn Steve Jobs!!


The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal continues our coverage of the controversial CenterLine project in Orange County, CA. We've decided that it's worthwhile to include "background" information on the overall state transit financing picture. (Lotsa facts and background . . . another reason why you like our blog!!!)

Supporters of a 1980 proposal to impose a 10-percent surtax on profits earned by large oil companies within California came up with a snappy slogan: "TAX PIG OIL!" But voters, evidently fearing that the tax would simply be passed on as higher pump prices, gave it a 56-percent "NO" vote.

The same bill, approved in 1981, that imposed the first gas-tax increase since 1963 also permitted counties to impose, with voter approval, a half-cent sales-tax increase to finance "transportation" improvements. This was primarily intended to provide additional highway funds without additional gas-tax hikes.

Now get ready, because here's a part that the "highway lobby" (and Wendell) REALLY don’t want you to read:

After 1987, voters in large urban and suburban counties began REJECTING county transportation sales-tax measures THAT DID NOT ALLOCATE A SIGNIFICANT SHARE TO TRANSIT!

So began one of the most remarkable "revolutions" in U.S. transportation financing history. (For once, Your Favorite Transit Pundits aren't exaggerating . . . the reason this story isn't better known is because it took place 15 years ago, during the "dark ages" pre-www.)

Jerry Brown was succeeded as Governor of California by George Deukmejian (1983-1990), a conservative Republican with strong support from the tax-limitation movement. He wanted to speed freeway construction, but was frustrated by inflation and a growing shortage of funds. He firmly (some would say "stubbornly") opposed boosting the gas tax. Instead, he proposed a $1 billion bond issue for freeways.


It's difficult for us to convey what a totally unexpected shock California voters delivered on June 7, 1988, when they rejected Governor Deukmejian's freeway bond play by a very narrow margin of "no" votes. Of the 45 (!) bond issues submitted to state voters between 1982 and 1990, only this one (!!) was rejected. State politicos assumed the measure would attract wide support. Instead, the vote touched off months of conflict between governor and legislature over the gas-tax issue.

(If you see flashing warnings along the lines of DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING, you'll know that the good, er, Mr. Fudge has hacked into your computer. Believe us, he REALLY doesn't want you to see the next part!)

Meanwhile, early in 1998, a small group of rail supporters decided over coffee and donuts to draft a bond initiative for major new funding for intercity and urban rail projects. This effort was led by the Planning and Conservation League (website here and Train Riders Association of California (website here PCL and TRAC developed a plan, totaling $2.9 billion, and secured backing for a petition drive and a campaign for approval; the plan qualified for the June 5, 1990 ballot as "Proposition 116."

(As far as Your Favorite Transit Pundits have been able to determine, nothing like this had EVER been done before, anywhere in the U.S.)

The Proposition 116 drive compelled the politicos to include substantial transit funding in the "official" plan that might not have been included otherwise. Under the "official" plan, totalling $18.5 billion, the state gas tax was doubled in stages, truck weight fees were increased by 50 percent, and a $1 billion transit bond issue was submitted to voters. The bond issue was Proposition 108; the measure authorizing the tax increases was Proposition 111. Of the $3.5-billion "transit" share, none was provided by the gas-tax increase. (But you figured that out already, didn’t you?)

We'll have more in our next post.

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