Governor Brown misses opportunity to improve air quality

RAMP and many of our asthma partners were disappointed to see Governor Jerry Brown bow to last minute business pressure and veto SB 582.  This bill, originally introduced by Republican Senator Bill Emmerson, breezed through the Senate with no registered opposition and nearly unanimous bi-partisan support – a rare feat in today’s political climate.  The bill would have given air quality management districts (AQMDs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) the joint authority to require medium and large businesses to offer commuter benefits to employees who do not drive to work.  Business could do this by:

1)    Giving employees the option to pay for transit, vanpooling or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars;

2)    Offering employees a transit or vanpool subsidy up to $75 per month; and/or

3)    Providing employees with a free shuttle or vanpool.

This bill had the support of public health, environmental, transportation and business interests across the state, including from Community Action to Fight Asthma, a statewide network of asthma coalitions coordinated by RAMP, because it would have given AQMDs and MPOs a low to no cost tool that could help regions meet air quality standards and greenhouse gas reduction goals.  In fact, simply allowing employees to cover their transit costs with pre-tax dollars reduces the cost of transit for employees and reduces payroll taxes paid by employers.  This was seen as an ultimate win-win-win for employees, employers, and public health.

However, as the bill made its way to the Assembly Floor, the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers Association (ironically, given the bill could have reduced the tax burden on both employees and employers) came out against the bill.  This new opposition drove Republicans away from the bill, including the still supportive Senator Emmerson, who passed authorship of the bill to Democratic Senator Leland Yee.  Senator Yee was able to move the bill to the governor’s desk, where advocates hoped the clear benefits of the bill would prevail.  Unfortunately, Brown sided with the chamber and the taxpayer association and vetoed the bill, saying in his veto message:

While I support the goal of reducing vehicle trips, this bill would impose a new mandate on small businesses at a time of economic uncertainty.

With this veto, the governor, chamber, and taxpayer association may have shot themselves in the foot, as AQMDs and MPOs will now have to develop other tools for reducing air pollution – tools that might ultimately be costlier to businesses and taxpayers.

Let the governor know you’re disappointed in his veto. You can contact him via

RAMP would like to thank Senators Emmerson and Yee for their leadership on this issue. You can too. Contact Senator Emmerson at and Senator Yee at