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Counties cry foul on road funding: Yolo, Placer could end up with nothing

By Emily Bazar
Bee Capitol Bureau, The Sacramento Bee
June 15, 2000

With a vote on the new $100.8 billionstate budget set for today,politicians across the state are assailing the governor's plan to dole out billions of dollars for transportation projects intended to ease congestion.

Under Gov. Gray Davis' proposal, about $4.8 billion in surplus budget funds would go to specific projects in 25 primarily urban counties over five years, while 33 counties would receive nothing.

The lion's share of the money has been earmarked for Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco counties, all of which have large populations and notorious traffic jams.

Counties such as Yolo and Placer -- which under the traditional transportation funding formula would receive $29 million and $32 million respectively -- get nothing under the governor's new plan, even though local leaders say they could use the money badly.

"We're a fast-growing county, and we have many needs that the urban areas getting the funds also have," said Tim Hackworth,acting director of Public Works for Placer County. "We get a little bit short-changed in this formula."

Many legislators are opposed to the governor's plan, and some, including Assemblyman Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, are calling on colleagues to oppose it. But time is short. The constitutional deadline for legislative approval of a budget is midnight tonight. "Like most other Republicans, I continue to be very concerned about the transportation proposal that's out there," said Sen. Charles Poochigian of Fresno, who is chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. "There is going to continue to be great dissatisfaction with the new methodology chosen for the distribution of transportation dollars."

In California, money for new transportation projects generally is allocated at a regional level, with local politicians coming together to prioritize projects and recommend funding decisions. Money for these projects comes from the state's transportation account and is spread among all counties based on population and other factors.

But the money in the governor's plan is funding over and above that provided in the state transportation account. Davis has opted to tap general fund dollars for these projects because there's a large budget surplus.

Though he could have allocated the new money according to the traditional regional transportation funding mechanism, he said he decided instead to focus on projects in certain counties to ease congestion.

In the proposal, for instance, $120 million would go toward Sacramento Regional Transit light rail expansions or improvements.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office issued a report on the proposal, however, that suggests its distribution isn't equitable and that projects weren't selected based on objective criteria.

The way the governor chose the projects "seemed to be kind of ad hoc in nature," said Rebecca Long,fiscal and policy analyst for the LAO. "We haven't seen any objective criteria to demonstrate that the projects included in the plan will meet their intended goals."

More recently, Davis added a $30 million project to his proposal that would fund the reconstruction of the Apache Trail Interchange near Banning, which leads to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians' casino.

Davis' choice of projects has raised the ire of legislators such as Oller, who represents six rural counties -- Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mono and Placer. None of them would receive money under the Davis plan.

Though he has embarked on a lobbying campaign against the proposal, a joint conference committee looking into the budget's transportation package has already indicated its willingness to go along with the governor's plan.

"That is an unconscionable abuse of power and abuse of the purse strings," Oller said. "It is cheating the people in rural California in favor of people in urban California."

In Placer County, officials say they have transportation projects that deserve funding, such as the widening of Highway 65 between Roseville and Lincoln.

Though not as extreme as Bay Area or Southern California traffic jams, Hackworth said Placer County also must deal with congestion on its roadways.

So does Yolo County, according to Supervisor Tom Stallard.In addition to a backlog of road and bridge repairs, the county's Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento needs widening and fixing, among other pressing projects.

"We are one California and all of us have to be concerned about the welfare of all of us," Stallard said.

Steven A. Capps of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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