Friday, February 16, 2007

1/8 cent sales tax for VTA?

VTA did not hide its intention of having a 1/8-cent sales tax increment all along. Finally VTA now has a sponsor in Sacramento to help make its wish a reality. State Senator Elaine Alquist just introduced a new bill (SB 264) that would authorize VTA to place sales taxes on the ballot in 1/8 cent increments. Currently, VTA is allowed to place sales taxes in quarter cent increments.

The bill would only give the authority to VTA only and not to other governmental agencies, and the bill would also keep the 2/3 voter requirement for special taxes, something that VTA prefers to be reduced as well.

VTA's contention is that it needs more flexibility to determine the tax rate for additional revenues, without suggesting a preferred tax rate or a timetable. This legislation would give VTA two new tax options (1/8 cent and 3/8 cent) in addition to two others that already exist (quarter cent and half cent).

As it stands, VTA can barely justify a quarter-cent sales tax increase to support the BART extension and other 2000 Measure A projects. A half-cent tax, which would provide sufficient funding for all projects, is something that voters would likely reject, as shown by the defeat of the 2006 Measure A.

If this legislation passes, VTA could place a 1/8 cent tax increase on the ballot. In order to do so, VTA will have to eliminate projects and/or low-ball their figures. A 1/8 cent tax, even if it is fully dedicated to BART, will not provide enough funds to build and operate BART. Existing transit services, along with other non-BART projects, would be negatively impacted by a 1/8 cent increase.

VTA could place a 3/8 cent tax, but this odd-ball figure would probably confuse voters and likely be rejected.

Another possibility is to have two 1/8 cent tax increases to appear on separate ballots. VTA may place a 1/8 cent BART-only tax on one ballot, and then a 1/8 cent tax for other projects on another ballot. However, voters could approve one but not the other.

Obviously VTA would not seek a change in the law if VTA doesn't plan to take advantage of it soon. With one strike against them in 2006 and time running out, the delusionals at VTA would likely go for a 1/8 cent tax increase just for BART in 2008 and screw everything else.

San Mateo County already has a state authorization to place taxes in 1/8 cent increments. However, a 1/8 cent sales tax increase for parks failed to meet the 2/3 voter theshold last November.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BART and SamTrans are finally getting a divorce

Key highlights from an op-ed written by Sue Lempert, San Mateo County representative on the MTC:

When the extension started losing money, SamTrans was vulnerable.Continued payments to cover the deficit -- $5 million to $10 million a year -- would ultimately destroy the bus system. Hence, divorce and, of course, alimony. Alimony payments to BART will include $30 million of San Mateo County's Measure A transportation tax which voters renewed in 2004. This has already been approved...

In addition, SamTrans is expected to give BART a portion of its State Transit Assistance (STA), which amounts to approximately $800,000 annually and $32 million from its share of Proposition 1B transit funds. BART will take over operation of the system and responsibility for covering all costs. SamTrans will be off the hook for the extension...

The details of the "divorce settlement" is available here. As a part of the agreement between BART, SamTrans, and MTC, BART will receive a total of $54 million from the Prop 1B funds that can be used for the SFO extension as well as the planned extension to Warm Springs, a wasteful and necessary component for VTA to extend BART further south.

There are lots of lessons to be learned when rail extensions were built on phony promises. At the end, transit riders will determine the success of failure of a new rail lines, not the politicians or lobbyists like SVLG and San Jose Downtown Association. They can spend millions on tax campaigns and consultants, yet build a system that too few riders want to spend money to ride everyday.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Delusional Mercury News and "Stephen Colbert"

In its recent editorial about BART, when the Mercury News states that: "The design is expected to cost $649 million over the next 10 years," it is important to note that this amount of tax money going to engineers and consultants will be more than enough to deliver actual commuter rail or light rail service.

The BART extension was never within reach because the 2000 Measure A was sold false promises.

Another Mercury line: "Once the line is running, nobody will question the wisdom of having built it." is even more hilarious. Look at San Mateo County, the BART extension to SFO, which was supposed to generate an operating surplus for San Mateo County, is now costing over $10 million per year in unplanned operating subsidy. Is Mercury News sure that no one will question when BART costs more than what VTA and SVLG claimed and bus service had to be cut as the result?

The best, however, is from "Stephen Colbert" in the second reponse: "Now, normally when a multibillion 10-year project is proposed, that will dig up streets for years to come, most people would do a cost analysis -- not ME! I FEEL the worthiness of this pet project. And this is a good project (for Bechtel)..."

Friday, February 02, 2007

More money to consultants at the expense of transit operations

There's nothing except the passage of a new tax that would make Carl Guardino and Scott Knies more happy: $364 million for the BART extension blackhole from the California Transportation Commission. VTA intends to use the funds to continue studies and designs for the BART project.
That money was a part of the Traffic Congestion Relief Plan (TCRP) proposed by then-governor Gray Davis in 2000, in which he promised $750 million to VTA for the BART extension.

In the following years, most of the TCRP funding was frozen because of the state funding crisis. Some projects like the Caltrain Baby Bullet, which was ready for construction, received full funding. This year, after voters approved Prop 1A and 1B, the CTC began to allocate TCRP funding to other projects.

Guardino and Knies would like you to believe it is all good news, while ignoring the obvious flaws of the BART extension, and the need for additional sales taxes to begin construction.

However, transit riders is likely to pay for this. In order balance the state budget and provide debt service for Prop 1B passed last November, Schwarzenegger has proposed to reduce Public Transit Account (PTA) by $1.1 billion this year, and has also threatened to eliminate the gas tax revenue spillover to the PTA in future years. The PTA funding is a revenue source where transit agencies can spend on transit operations. The spillover funding is particularly important as it can be used to soften the impact on transit operating budget in light of rising fuel prices.

Perhaps Schwarzenegger does not intend to cut transit operating funds for BART. Perhaps Guardino and Knies do not intend to receive BART funding at the expense of transit operation, but the reality is that the state is trying to cut transit operating funds while allocating money for more studies on a project that VTA cannot afford to build and operate.

With all of the $364 million will go to consultants, and nothing for construction or transit operation, how much of that $364 million do you think VTA would spend on consultants to administer bids for sheet cakes served at BART extension public meetings?