Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Same old 2000 Measure A trick

Although it has not been appeared on the VTA web sites yet, this plan demostrates the same old trick that deceived voters in November 2000 for Measure A.

VTA is claiming that it can fund everything that everyone wants in the proposed 1/4 cent tax increase because of new sales tax projection, which was revised upward of course.

In addition to extending BART from Fremont to San Jose in 11 years,the new plan allows for 10 Caltrain round trips to Gilroy by 2010,more than $800 million for a new road repair program and senior transit services, a people mover to the Mineta San Jose International by 2018, and $500 million in the bank when all projects are finished,assuming county voters approve a quarter-cent sales tax next November...

...The plan is based on assumptions that county sales tax revenues will grow by as much as 6 percent a year between 2008 and 2015, compared to projections of 2.9 percent in the fiscal year ending June 2006 and 4.5 percent for the year ending June 2007.

The worse part is that the County Supervisor Don Gage is appearing to fall for the new "projection."

"I'm supportive of the plan as long as we get everything we need in South County," he said. I'm willing to live with the schedule. The only thing is [other board members] may get greedy and say we want more, but I don't think they will."

The problem here is not greed, but trust. There is a lesson to be learned from the 2000 Measure A. Back in 2000, Measure A supporters claimed that the 2000 tax was sufficient to deliver all the projects and then some, even through the Pete Cipolla, VTA's General Mananger of the time, said that an extra tax was necessary:

Published Wednesday, October. 18, 2000, in the Palo Alto Daily News
BART tax will erase VTA losses

By Mark Shahinian Daily News Staff Writer

BART tax supporters said yesterday the booming economy will raise sales tax receipts enough to erase the Valley Transportation Authority's projected losses and will fully fund all operations if voters approve the $6 billion tax.

Sandy Eakins, an alternate VTA board member, said the VTA projects budget shortfalls after 2006. But Measure A, helped by rising sales tax revenues, will bring in enough money to cover the losses, she said.

Eakins said the new sales tax estimates were made by Booz-Allen & Hamilton, a major consulting firm...

...VTA General Manager Peter Cipolla advocated an additional quarter-cent sales tax to make up the shortfall in an August memo Strickland provided to the Daily News.

Of course in less than 3 years after Measure A passed, many officials finally admitted that an additional tax was needed to build BART, but after the presentation of the 1/4 cent tax proposal a few months ago, the City of San Jose and VTA are still refusing to make hard decisions to cut some of San Jose's projects. Instead, it is now making another "new estimate" to deceive voters and other non-San Jose politicians.

While VTA and the City of San Jose could say that they plan to share the benefits of increased revenue to other cities in the county, they are still ignoring the question of how they plan to share the pain. What if the increased projection does not pan out, which is guaranteed to happen, would other cities be giving away tax reveune to build an underused subway in San Jose?

The initial plan, even though it was uninspired, outlined the "pain" (i.e. cutting SJC peoplemover and Downtown East Valley LRT) for the City of San Jose in the minimum. The current proposal that is reported now ignored the issue of pain. What it means is that if the new sales tax passes, the issue of which projects to cut would be discussed in the next few years afterwards along with a new talk for yet another sales tax.

If you believe that fiscal responsibility and regional equity is important, please let Don Gage know at Fool us once, shame on VTA. Fool us twice, shame on Gage.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

VTA withdraws BART extension from FTA's New Starts process

In VTA's press releases, VTA claims that their decision to withdraw the BART project in FTA's New Start process is a tactical move.

Year after year of "not recommended" status given by FTA to the BART project, it is easy to figure out how FTA feels about the BART project and how well this project competes with other transit projects around the country.

Knowing that it will receive another "not recommended" status again when VTA and SVLG is likely to be campaigning for another tax, VTA is withdrawing the BART project from the process to improve the tax's chances for voter approval.

Or more importantly, without FTA close scrutiny under the New Start process, VTA would likely to frontload more local tax dollars for the BART project and then say that there's no affordable alternative to building BART. It is like the Bay Bridge fraud: when enough money is spent on designing a bad bridge, some would argue that it is cheaper to build a bad bridge than to redesign and build a good bridge.

However, it is never too late to get things right, especially in this case.