Monday, July 14, 2008

Can Carl Guardino be trusted?

Recently, there are rumors suggesting that a 1/8 cent tax increase will appear on the November ballot. Carl Guardino reportedly has been showing SVLG sponsored polls to various politically connected individuals asking for their support.

Pushing for a 1/8 cent tax shouldn't be a surprise after VTA was given authorization from the state last year. VTA wouldn't be pushing hard for that in Sacramento if the agency doesn't intend to place it on the ballot.

Politically, a 1/8 cent tax has an advantage: the increase is relatively small. Supporters believe that voters are more likely to support a smaller tax increase than a bigger one.

On the other hand, 1/8 cent is clearly not enough for VTA. Two years ago, VTA approved an expenditure plan that required a new 1/4 cent tax, even though not all 2000 Measure A projects would be funded. Earlier this year, VTA has admitted that even a 1/4 cent will not be enough. Why should VTA be even considering raising less than half of the money the agency says it needs?

Unlike other counties in the Bay Area, Carl Guardino and VTA are strong believers in backroom politics and do not want public participation in drafting a new tax. To date, VTA still hasn't release a spending plan with a 1/8 cent tax increase. It is likely that VTA will not release the plan until just before the August board meeting when the board votes to place a tax on the November ballot.

Even though a smaller tax increase seems appealing, a "cheap" BART is a false promise that Carl Guardino and VTA will never deliver. Eight years ago, despite warning from VTA's General Manager, Guardino claimed in the 2000 Measure A ballot argument that it "pays operating costs ... for decades without additional taxes." Only less than three years later VTA found itself in a hole, putting vital bus and paratransit services at risk. Two years ago, VTA and Guardino tried a new tax but got defeated. This time, VTA and Guardino are desperate and want some kind of tax to pass, even though it is certain that another tax increase will be needed some point in the future.

Carl Guardino could not be trusted in 2000 and still cannot be trusted today. The 2000 Measure A was not enough back then and this new tax will not be enough today. What VTA needs is not a new tax but a change in priorities, and VTA cannot change its priorities when Carl Guardino continues to drive public policy backroom with his private polls.

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