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Governor Moonbeam versus eMeg: What’s at Stake for Transportation?

3:06 PM EDT on October 28, 2010

Continuing with our series on key governor’s races, here’s some news on the contest in California. We’ve taken a look at some races in Maryland and Colorado where pro-transit, pro-bike candidates are likely to win. We examined the nuances of a candidate in Tennessee who’s a mixed bag on transportation issues. And yesterday we brought you the bad news that Rick Perry of Trans-Texas Corridor fame was driving a Hummer to victory in that state. That was sort of a bummer, so let’s get back to good news.

A few weeks ago, we linked to a New York Times article about Republican candidates who want to kill high speed rail plans in their states. Exhibit A: Meg Whitman, running for California governor.

Jerry Brown holds a 10-point lead over Meg Whitman heading into the final week of the election. Image: ## Los Angeles##

Her Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, spearheaded the plan to build a high speed line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He wants it so badly he even shrugged off accountability and killed a provision that would have tied funding for the rail program to improvements in its business plan.

And he cheered earlier this week when the Federal Railroad Administration granted the rail project $902 million, on top of $2.3 billion in stimulus money California was awarded in January. California voters already approved $10 billion in bonds for the project, but the state is still a long way away from raising the entire $45 billion budget for the rail line.

But the Governator is on his way out, and this is the part where you get to Choose Your Own Adventure. Will it be eBay CEO Meg Whitman? Or the man with the longest résumé in California politics, Attorney General Jerry Brown?

Whitman has let it be known that she’d axe the high speed rail program. In July, a campaign spokesperson put that issue to rest: “Meg believes the state cannot afford the costs associated with high-speed rail due to our current fiscal crisis.”

Meanwhile, Brown is on record supporting high speed rail from as far back as 1982, when, as governor, he signed the law creating a high speed rail project (which never came to fruition.) His campaign website makes clear that he “support[s] high speed rail as a clean, fast, accessible alternative to air transportation and long in-state automobile trips.” Governor Brown also appointed a woman as Caltrans director who was two decades ahead of her time in supporting HOV lanes – to the horror of California drivers.

Brown also supported transit-oriented development as mayor of Oakland (I told you he’s held every job in California!), successfully increasing density in that city. He still wants to offer incentives to developers for building near transit hubs. And he says the state – and the feds – are going to have to pony up to fill in the cash gaps of municipalities, like Los Angeles, that are building transit systems.

And funding, as we know, is always an issue. Whitman opposes a gas tax increase. Brown hasn’t committed one way or another, and Whitman has tried to remind voters that he raised the gas tax by two cents 30 years ago. It’s true – the LA Times said the move was designed to “keep the state’s highway system from going broke."

Are these high speed trains in California's future? Depends what happens November 2. Image: ## Visions##

And this is California, after all, so there are always a couple Props circulating around at election time. This time there’s Prop 22 and Prop 23, both with serious consequences for transportation and the environment.

Prop 22 would bar the state form raiding county and city budgets to balance its own. Transit funding is one of many important programs that get starved when these raids happen. Whitman says she supports the ban. Brown hasn't stated a position one way or another, as far as we can tell.

Prop 23, meanwhile, is an initiative funded by oil companies that would effectively put the brakes on California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32 which would bring the state’s emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020. Prop 23 would stop implementation of AB 32 until unemployment had been below 5.5 percent for at least a year. (The state’s unemployment rate, now 12.4 percent, hasn’t dipped below 5.5 for three years.)

Oil companies seem to be the only backers this initiative has (except Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who’s running against Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer, who looks like she’s going to keep her job, but it’s been a nailbiter.) Brown has come out squarely against Prop 23, and Whitman has tried to carve out some middle ground, saying she’s against it but she does want to delay implementation of AB 32 for a year. She’s called AB 32 a “job killer.”

They’re both for wind and solar power – how could you live in California and not see the value in harnessing sunshine? – but Whitman’s support for oil drilling soured only after the BP spill. Meanwhile, Brown launched his campaign at a solar energy factory.

Perhaps Brown’s most significant position, though, is his strong track record of trying to curb sprawl. His own father, as governor of California, oversaw the building of massive new highway projects, part of the 1960s migration to suburbia. But Governor Brown, Junior, has tried to bring people back to the urban core. In a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal, he said:

No thoughtful person can really question the fact that we must grow smarter, with more efficient and less polluting transportation. Nor, in a time of escalating food prices, can we afford to wantonly plow over irreplaceable farmland. That is why I make no apologies for promoting efficient building standards, renewable energy, and communities that work for people and businesses, not just oil companies.

He’s in favor of restricting highway funds to communities that promote sprawl, and as Attorney General he’s gone so far as to sue them. In 2007, “Brown joined an environmental law suit against fast-growing San Bernardino County because its general plan didn't take into account the greenhouse gas emissions that result from sprawl development,” Planetizen reported. And this year, he’s taken on the town of Pleasanton, which has put a cap on housing construction despite the fact that job growth is high. Forcing people to live far from work has meant a 46 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled.

These positions make Brown a hero to many urbanists (and a villain to some who think he’s “waging war on the suburbs.”) But the winds seem to blowing in his favor. After a hard-fought, neck-and-neck race, Brown has amassed a 10-point lead over Whitman in the final week.

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