Active Transportation Program Cut Because Administration Wants to Prioritize Highways

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The Active Transportation Program “is a key aspect of Caltrans’ responsibilities,” a Department of Finance representative told an Assembly budget subcommittee today.

But it may not be key enough. The representative was answering a question from Assemblymember Damon Connolly on why the Governor was proposing to cut funding for the ATP instead of tapping the State Highway Account, as was done last year.

“That is why we didn’t propose it this year,” the Finance Department representative told the committee. “The highway fund has been continually tapped over the past few years [to backfill the ATP], and continuing to divert state highway account funds could negatively impact the key work that Caltrans does to maintain the state highway system.”

The overall state transportation budget is around $21 billion this year. The State Highway Operations and Performance Program (SHOPP), which is a portion of the “state highway account,” has a budget of about $5.2 billion this year. California also set to receive billions in transportation funding over the next few years from the federal infrastructure bill.

The proposed cut to the ATP is about $600 million. The ATP is also the most climate, energy, and equity efficient program in the entire transportation budget.

So much for Governor Newsom’s climate commitments.

The ongoing budget conversations in Sacramento are difficult ones. There was a lot of bad news as budget subcommittees held simultaneous, overlapping hearings to grill people from the Finance Department on the details of Governor Newsom’s May Revise proposal, which have just been released. Many valued and relied-upon programs are threatened with cuts – and cuts must come from somewhere. As committees hurtle through the information, some tried to ask the deeper questions about how the state prioritizes spending, but so much is being swept under the rug in the rush to finish a budget on time.

However, the transportation budget is not under threat – at any rate, not the highway budget. (For now, it looks like last year’s heavily negotiated transit package will be funded.) Yet the tiny yet mighty ATP is about to be thrown out because the state administration would rather keep putting all our money towards highways.

At the Assembly hearing, the Department of Finance said they were open to more discussion on the topic as budget negotiations continue. Assemblymember Connolly was interested in “drilling down further” on the ATP cut. More legislators need to take an interest.

The California Bicycle Coalition has more information about the ATP funding, and suggests that people contact their representatives as soon as possible to let them know that active and sustainable transportation projects need to be a priority for transportation investments.

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