Tag Archives: unite

Tom Ammiano: Legalize Marijuana, Regulate It and Tax It

A frequent topic of online discussion on the budget crisis in recent weeks has been a call to legalize and tax marijuana in order to help close the budget deficit. This would have two beneficial effects – reducing the prison population and increasing the revenue stream for state government. It was even the most popular question at Change.gov back in December.

Today Assemblymember Tom Ammiano announced he supports this basic concept, and to that end is introducing AB 390 – a bill number you’ll be hearing a lot about in coming months. From a press release sent via email:

Today Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of groundbreaking legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education act (AB 390) would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense.  This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes”, said Ammiano.  “California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.”

Ammiano estimates this will bring in $1 billion in annual revenue. That could double when considering the impact of savings on prison spending.

This is clearly an idea whose time has come. I do not know of any recent polling on the topic, but I have to believe that support for regulating marijuana like alcohol has risen in recent years. 2009 offers an interesting moment, where long-time legalization advocates can now ally with Californians who want to solve the budget crisis and can no longer afford to ignore the high costs of a failed marijuana policy.

Ammiano is also following in the footsteps of other San Francisco legislators. In 1975 then-State Senator George Moscone got a bill passed and signed by Governor Jerry Brown to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Ammiano’s proposed legislation is of a much larger scale, but it makes sense to treat marijuana, a drug that is already widely available in California, the same way we treat alcohol.

It’s good to see someone in Sacramento stand up and point out that there’s no reason we should maintain a policy that has failed so totally and completely, and at such an enormous cost, as marijuana prohibition.

The Gas Tax and Transit “Armageddon”

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

One of my lingering concerns about the Obama Administration has been that they might be tempted to claim victory with the $8 billion in HSR funding added to the stimulus and not follow up on that money, which as we know merely pays for some initial costs. But Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made clear last week that in fact, the $8 billion in HSR stimulus really is intended as a signal to America that Obama is truly serious about building HSR:

LaHood said that for Obama building high-speed rail networks is, “if not his No. 1 priority, certainly at the top of his list. What the president is saying with the $8 billion is this is the start to help begin high-speed rail projects.” He added that the administration “is committed to finding the dollars to not only get them started but to finishing them in at least five parts of the country,” although he declined to elaborate on where these projects might ultimately be built.

And don’t worry about the right-wing freakout over the Vegas HSR project – California is in better position than any other HSR project in America to use that stimulus funding. We can begin construction in late 2010 or early 2011; no other project is anywhere close to that point.

This couldn’t be better news for us in California, where we have long known that at least $15 billion in federal aid, spread out over 10 years, will be needed to build the SF-LA line. Unfortunately the news is tempered by the fact that the Obama Administration’s support for HSR did not extend to mass transit as a whole. Here in California the state has decided to zero out the State Transit Assistance account, costing local agencies over $500 million in funding. The federal stimulus isn’t nearly enough to make up the difference. And as the San Jose Mercury News reports, that’s setting up a situation where HSR may be pit against local transit agencies:

The MTC meeting Wednesday in Oakland could turn contentious, as the current plan calls for allocating $75 million to help build the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, which would serve as the final stopping point for a high-speed rail line and Caltrain (UPDATE: the MTC now plans to seek train box funds from the $8 billion HSR stimulus, not the general transit stimulus funds – see Transbay Blog for more info) and $70 million to build a BART spur to Oakland International Airport. Those two projects alone would take 43 percent of the $340 million headed to the area in stimulus funds for local transit.

Some want money for those new two projects scrapped or reduced – and redirected to cover the cost of paying for day-to-day transit needs.

But MTC officials counter that building the Transbay Terminal now will save millions of dollars in later costs, and combined with the $8 billion in stimulus funds set aside for high-speed rail could accelerate that program.

I support using that money for the Transbay Terminal, although I’m less certain about whether BART to OAK is all that necessary; the AirBART buses work pretty well (I used them on numerous occasions when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, although that was 10 years ago).

But I really hate it when HSR pitted against other forms of transit. I have said it before and I will say it again – HSR and other mass transit need each other to be successful. It should not and must not be an either/or choice. I don’t blame the MTC for being stuck in this position – that blame lies in Sacramento and Washington DC. But we transit advocates need to not fall out along modal lines.

I’d like to propose a solution, one that I don’t even know is possible under state law but makes a ton of sense to me. The nine-county SF Bay Area region should implement its own gas tax, which will solely be used to fund public transit. I haven’t penciled out the numbers so I don’t know exactly what the tax amount should be, but it should be indexed to the price of gas, and not a fixed cent number.

This money would initially be used to backfill the loss of STA funds, and allow the federal stimulus money to go to new transit infrastructure such as Transbay Terminal or BART to OAK. Ultimately the STA funds must be restored by a statewide gas tax increase, but it is much more politically possible to implement a gas tax in the Bay Area first than to try and get the Central Valley and the Southern California exurbs to buy into this (they can be brought on board later, once the 2/3 rule is eliminated).

It’s very difficult for folks living in the nine counties to evade the tax, with the possible exception of Gilroy residents who might drive to Hollister to fill up. Most folks will simply pay the increase rather than drive far out of their way to get a cheaper gallon of gas.

I’m not sure if this option has been explored by the MTC and the member counties, but it ought to be. It’s a sensible solution that would not only help spare transit agencies from “Armageddon” but would itself be a long overdue policy shift that would give a real boost to transit efforts in the SF Bay Area.

Who can unite the largest majority

  Isn’t it amazing
The Obama Campaign & Movement 

What candidate for President has the best chance to enlist the largest majority of all Americans to unite behind and to support his/her vision for America?

This is a question for every voter to ask themselves. There is no single right answer. Your opinion and mine are entitled to exist side by side in the public arena. Then, debate/discussion/education/comparisons take place and are essential to participatory democracy.

When someone suggests you are being un-fair, the larger community will by their own voice evaluate and the community will collectively determine is it fair or not. If the larger community decides that you are wrong, you are entitled to try and change their opinion or to accept their collective judgment. If you choose to do the latter, and apology would probably be accepted.

“Those polling categories that presume to define the vast chasm between

Us do not, Obama reminds us, add up to the sum of our concerns or hint at

Where our hearts otherwise intersect.” quote from John Balzar, Los Angeles Times.