Frommer faces roadblocks on transportation issues
Glendale native and former state Assemblyman Dario Frommer was voted in as chairman of the California Transportation Commission on Jan. 19, just in time to inherit a fistful of financial problems.
Frommer, a Democrat who represented the 43rd Assembly District from 2000 to 2006, said the sluggish economy, federal and state belt-tightening and unforeseen consequences of two November ballot measures are hurting the bottom line when it comes to roads and transit.
"The biggest issue we're facing in transportation, as in other parts of government, is funding," Frommer said. "We've seen tax revenue from sales of gasoline and fuels drop dramatically."
One problem is that 2006 transportation funding measures touted by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and passed by voters are falling short. For example, Proposition 1B created nearly $20 billion in transportation bonds, but the state has not put all the bonds up for sale because of miserable market conditions and the state's shaky financial health.
As if that weren't enough, Frommer said, this year voters created an "unanticipated problem" with Propositions 22 and 26.
Proposition 26 requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature for any new revenue source. The measure also requires a two-thirds majority affirmation of recently passed taxes. One of those is a complex shift in the state's fuel excise tax that lawmakers passed in November.
Frommer spent part of the week in Sacramento telling lawmakers that hundreds of millions of transportation dollars are at risk without a new vote.
The issue is complicated further by Proposition 22, designed to limit state raids on local funds, because that measure also limits the state's use of fuel excise taxes.
"We have some headaches," Frommer said. "I don't know whether it's congratulations or condolences to be chair this year."
While the California Transportation Commission has wide-ranging authority on transportation spending, it will not decide whether Burbank will be home to a high-speed rail station. That will be determined, possibly this year, by the California High-Speed Rail Commission.
Likewise, the controversial proposal for a Long Beach (710) Freeway tunnel from Alhambra to Pasadena is in the hands of Los Angeles County authorities. Frommer is not holding his breath for a quick resolution there.
"The 710 was supposed to be completed in 1964, and here we are almost 40 years later," Frommer said. "There are many hurdles to finishing that link."
Frommer, who has served on the 11-member commission since 2008, will replace James Earp as chairman in March.
Schiff praises speech, Dreier likes austerity
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night was just what the nation needed, a "Sputnik" moment focusing on the economy.
"I thought the president did what he really needed to do, which was set out an economic vision for an America that can compete in a new marketplace and win," Schiff said. "I'm glad he chose to do that rather than offer a laundry list of new programs, which is often what they do in state of the union speeches."
Schiff drew connections from today's economic crisis to the shockwaves that hit the United States when the Soviet Union launched a satellite into space in 1957.
"The most important message involved letting the country know this is our Sputnik moment," Schiff said. "Just as the launching of Sputnik caused America to mobilize, what we're seeing happen in China, India and elsewhere is causing us to rise up to the challenge at this time."
Schiff joined the parade of politicians setting aside the normal partisan seating arrangement in a symbol of bipartisan cooperation. One of his neighbors was Rep. Judy Biggert (D-Ill.).
Some lawmakers arrived hours before the speech to hold their seats, or place cards on seats to reserve them. Biggert, like Schiff a member of the House Judiciary Committee, reserved her seat early.
"I saw where she was sitting, gave her a call and told her I would love to join her," Schiff said. "It felt a little like a prom date."
Rep. David Dreier (R- San Dimas), whose district includes La Cañada Flintridge, sat with Democratic firebrand Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
He issued a statement after Obama's speech embracing the spending freeze and other austerity measures suggested by the president, along with quick passage of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
"Combined with a return to pre-bailout, pre-binge spending levels and real tax reform, passage of these [free trade agreements] can help put our economy back on solid footing and get people back to work," he said.
Prisoners may be reassigned to local jails
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) on Jan. 18 met with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in Washington, D.C., to discuss California's prison crisis. Federal courts have ruled the state's prisons are overcrowded and conditions violate constitutional protections for inmates.
Because of the state's fiscal crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown, like former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before him, is proposing a shift of responsibilities from the state to local authorities. That could mean prisoners are kept in lock-ups closer to their homes. City and county officials are concerned about the cost of such a shift, and whether their facilities are adequate to handle it.
"A big change [Baca] sees down the road is if parole is returned to the local jails to run," Schiff said. "He's preparing to meet that responsibility if it is placed on his shoulders."