CA: Commuter Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

July 15--A bill has cleared the state Legislature that would allow air districts statewide to require that larger employers offer incentives for employees to take alternative transportation to work.

The bill is intended to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion by reducing the number of single-occupancy car commuters. The state Senate gave final approval to the bill Thursday afternoon.

The bill will now go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has 12 days to act on it. Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, voted against the bill.

Blakeslee initially supported the law but changed his vote at the last minute because of the potential cost of implementing it. One of the provisions of the bill could require employers to pay up to $75 a month per employee.

"I couldn't support subjecting local small businesses to new government-mandated costs at a time when they are struggling to regain their footing," Blakeslee said.

Larry Allen, county air pollution control officer, said his agency is interested in using transportation control measures to meet federal air pollution standards for ozone, particulates and greenhouse gases. Forty percent of greenhouse gases are emitted by vehicles.

This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will designate San Luis Obispo County as out of compliance with ozone standards, Allen said. This will require the county to develop a comprehensive plan to reach compliance.

"EPA will likely require an adopted, final plan submitted to them by December 2013," Allen said.

The air district adopted similar commuter rules in the early 1990s, but the Legislature at the time restricted them to only those areas of the state with severe air pollution, stopping the local effort before it got started, Allen said.

If signed by the governor, the new law would apply to businesses that employ either 20 or more or 50 or more workers, as decided by county officials. These companies would choose from three types of incentives to encourage carpooling, bicycling or taking public transportation to work.

These include deducting alternative transportation expenses from the employee's taxable income, offering employees a subsidy of as much as $75 a month or furnishing van or bus transportation to employees.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, authored the Senate version of the bill. He said the law is designed to benefit both employers and employees.

"This bill will reduce workers' commute costs by up to 40 percent and will also provide a financial benefit to the employer by reducing payroll taxes," he said.

The bill is supported by a coalition of air quality, transit, environmental groups and some businesses. It is opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers Association.

Copyright 2011 - The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, Calif.