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Editorial—Transportation Is Playing on Exec’s Minds

Last week’s announcement that the state is providing $2.3 million to San Diego County agencies for traffic safety enhancements may not sound like much of a business story until you read the results of the latest poll by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Conducted April 11 during the chamber’s 2000 Small Business Legislative Conference, the poll of 600 attendees shows transportation and infrastructure projects are at the top of business’s list of priorities, even higher than cutting taxes.

The poll showed 25 percent of the respondents thought transportation and infrastructure improvements were the “most important issue facing California businesses today.” The only issue considered of greater consequence was “finding skilled, qualified employees,” which garnered 36 percent of the respondents’ vote.

Asked which action “would be most helpful to your business,” 31 percent chose a “massive infusion of state funding to relieve traffic congestion.”

Nearly the same number (32 percent) named preventing proposed increases in workers’ compensation benefits. Yet only 22 percent chose a reduction in income taxes, and only 8 percent chose elimination of the sales tax on gasoline.

None of this is really new. Over the past few years, the sound of business executives lamenting the lack of adequate transportationfacilities has grown louder until not even the lawmakers in Sacramento could ignore it.

Business, it seems, is slowly awakening to the fact it does not operate in a vacuum. An entire infrastructure must be laid and maintained to allow the free enterprise system to survive and thrive. All those taxes we have been ingeniously trying to avoid paying all these years do have some return after all.

Unfortunately, we were too successful at the latter. The last time there was any serious spending on infrastructure in this state was during the governorship of Pat Brown in the 1960s. We have let the great California ship of state turn slowly into a ragtag, leaky scow that threatens to lose headway and founder.

The $2.3 million being provided to San Diego County, and the statewide $31 million traffic safety initiative of which it is a part, is insubstantial compared to the size of our infrastructure problems. The $5.3 billion transportation infrastructure initiative announced by Gov. Gray Davis last month is, as state chamber chairman David H. Watts told conference attendees, “an excellent first step , but it is a first step.”

We urge the business community to support the governor’s transportation initiative as it goes before the state Legislature for approval, and help set California back walking on the right path.

, Martin Hill

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