Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lawsuit against bait and switch politics

Last week TRANSDEF filed a lawsuit against MTC and Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority for approving funding for the Warm Springs BART project.

The suit against MTC involves the redirection of bridge toll funds from the Dumbarton Rail project to the Warm Springs project. The Warm Springs project experienced funding shortfall for years as the project relied on the surplus fare revenue from the SFO extension, which never realized. TRANSDEF argues that it is illegal to switch funds because Regional Measure 2 (the bridge toll voters approved in 2004 to support these projects) allows funding switch between projects only within the same corridor, which Dumbarton Rail and Warm Springs BART are not.

The suit against ACTIA involves the allocation of local sales tax money for the Warm Springs project. Under the sales tax language approved by voters in 2000, ACTIA could not authorize funds for Warm Springs until funding is assured for a rail connection to Santa Clara County. ACTIA earlier approved local funding for the project after the VTA board passed a "full-funding plan" for the BART line to the Flea Market in January. However, that plan assumes federal new starts funds of $750 million, which VTA has yet to apply for, and which the funding is not guaranteed.

MTC and ACTIA might have approved funds out of convenience, considering that BART plans to put the tunnel construction under Lake Elizabeth out to bid soon. However, MTC and ACTIA also broke faith with voters by ignoring the voter-approved language that established the tax and the toll. V Smoothe at A Better Oakland says it best: 

If the government wants to spend money as they please, then they shouldn’t write specific restrictions on expenditures into their ballot measures in the first place. It doesn’t matter if most people have no idea what they’re voting for - if a measure up for voter approval includes specific language about how the revenue generated from it will be spent, then it doesn’t matter if everyone who casts a yes vote or one person casting a yes vote read the fine print - a promise is a promise. Fully funded means fully funded. Not, hopefully fully funded at some point in the future.

More often than not, transportation and other taxes are successful at the ballot box because of the political deals reached to ensure broad consensus. The 2000 Alameda County tax and RM2 bridge toll are results of such compromises. It is important that these deal be upheld to ensure rule of law and a fair and open political process in the future.

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