Friday, August 01, 2008

VTA 1/8 cent tax proposal and more

Without providing an expenditure plan, the VTA Board will consider next week placing a 1/8 cent sales tax increase on the ballot for the BART extension at the request "of a coalition of business, labor, environmental, academic and civic leaders." It is more like Carl Guardino wrote the memo and the ballot measure for VTA by himself, based on his private polling results that he refuses to share with the public.

Also without any analysis, VTA claims that the tax would generate enough funds "to fulfill VTA’s obligation to BART," which is not true. VTA General Manager Michael Burns has admitted that even with the tax, there's still a shortfall of $8 million every year. That shortfall would only cover the minimum payment for BART; however, VTA will actually be responsible for all of the operating subsidies on that extension, including when BART unilaterally increases its operating costs and when ridership fails to meet projection.

In addition, this proposal has not been discussed in any of the VTA standing or advisory committees prior to next week's VTA Board meeting. While it is obvious that Carl Guardino does not want any public participation in the drafting of this tax measure, it is something that the state auditors recommend: "Reviewing work plans for advisory committees to ensure the committees have an opportunity to review and provide input on issues in the early stages of development."

Even without sufficient funds, the VTA board is asked to reaffirm its commitment to the light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge at the same meeting. Apparently, the Downtown East Valley Policy Advisory Board got disturbed by Michael Burn's quote in the San Jose Mercury News suggesting that the light rail extension could be deferred due to lack of funds. San Jose Vice Mayor Dave Cortese sent a memo to VTA reminding the agency that the 2000 Measure A was not all about BART (contrary to Carl Guardino) and that it is time for East San Jose's turn to get a light rail extension.

Although this project has entered into final design and is almost ready to build, the ususal VTA argument for spending prioritization (project readiness) will likely not apply. The problem lies the fact that VTA still operates under an old expenditure plan that assumes a new 1/4 cent sales tax, something which was criticized by the state audit released yesterday. Regardless of VTA's "commitment" to the project, the 1/8 cent sales tax pushed by Guardino will provide nothing for the light rail extension. If Dave Cortese truly believes that it is "unfathomable" for VTA to ask for a tax increase yet trying to take away this project, Cortese should vote against the proposed 1/8 cent sales tax.

Obviously, this light rail extension is useless without a light rail line to downtown via Alum Rock and Santa Clara. Without that portion, the ride from Eastridge to Downtown will take more than twice as long as the buses do today. The biggest barrier other than funding for light rail on Alum Rock and Santa Clara is the BART extension.

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