Showing posts with label new sales tax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new sales tax. Show all posts

Thursday, August 07, 2008

VTA approves placing 1/8 cent sales tax increase on the ballot

With David Casas,Yoriko Kishimoto and Don Gage dissenting, the rest of the VTA board approved the proposal to place the 1/8 sales tax increase on the ballot to pay for the BART extension.

This is a great sample of how dysfunctional the VTA Board is and how most of the board members, already deeply delusional, forget their fiduciary responsibility.

On Monday, VTA General Manager Michael Burns sent a last-minute memo to the boardmembers stating that the proposed 1/8 cent sales tax not only would completely cover the cost of running the BART extension but would produce a surplus. This was a 100% flip-flop over his earlier statement to the press that the 1/8 cent tax would not cover the entire cost.

The memo appeared convincing at the first glance, but BayRail Alliance issued a counter-memo at the meeting showing that Burn's memo left out key details and that the 1/8 tax will only cover about 80% of the cost running the extension.

The key details left out of the Burn's memo are:

  • VTA is obligated to pay BART in advance at $48 million per year (in 2001 dollars) and adjusted quarterly thereafter to the growth rate of the sales tax revenue. In other words, BART gets a percentage cut of the sales tax revenue from VTA. That percentage cut happens to be larger than the 1/8 cent sales tax. As a result, the 1/8 cent tax will never completely cover VTA's financial obligation to BART.

  • According to the agreement between BART and VTA, VTA's maximum payment on the capital reserve is 30% of the operating and maintenance cost along with the allocated overhead cost. Burn's memo claimed that VTA is obligated to the maximum of the 20% of the operating cost, which, according to the agreement, is actually the minimum payment after 15 years of operation. Unless the advance payment from VTA and fare revenue can completely cover the operating cost plus a 30% capital reserve, BART will not return any funds back to VTA. Calculations by BayRail show that the maximum BART subsidy, which includes a 30% capital reserve, will exceed the $48 million annual advance payment from VTA. Therefore, surplus is not possible.

When Kishimoto pressed Burns about the advance payment, Burns said that VTA is not committed to the $48 million but rather the operating cost, a concept that violates the agreement between BART and VTA.

In response to the BayRail's numbers, Burns pointed out that the tax would be collected years before opening, which would produce a surplus in the early years. Even so, a simple calculation shows that VTA would still leave a deficit of about $200 million under the BayRail scenario, assuming that VTA would not use any of the funds in other ways, which is very unlikely.

Instead of asking hard questions, reviewing VTA's financial obligation to BART, and figuring how this tax relates to other VTA projects like Downtown East Valley, most of the boardmembers were instead telling stories about their delusions. Carl Guardino deliberately rushed this tax at the last minute directly to the board to avoid serious discussions and analysis, especially at the committee level.

Unfortunately, the same carelessness displayed by most boardmembers tonight have led to budget crises at the agency in the past eight years. Does VTA deserve more of your tax dollars? The choice is clear in November.

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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A quick thanks

Hugh Jardonn deserves a thank you for mentioning this blog and quoting some of the posts here on his letter to the editor regarding last week's San Jose Metro article on the new sales tax.

According to the online edition, it appears that the editors at the Metro have mistakenly changed BRT (a recognized abbreviation for bus rapid transit worldwide) to BART, which made the fourth paragraph awkward to read. Even though BRT and BART are just one letter apart, but BRT and BART are totally different animals.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

VTA should conduct its own polls for new taxes

Unlike most government entities, VTA does not conduct its own polls when the board makes major decisions like tax increases. Instead, VTA has relied on private polls conducted by SVLG, or more accurately, SVLG's interpretation of it own polls, given that SVLG has consistently refused to release polling results to the public and even to some of the key VTA Board members.

SVLG may think taxpayer sponsored polls a waste of money, but it is the only kind of poll that can engage the public in the decision making process. In reality, SVLG's polls are a part of the tax campaign, especially when the polls were funded by entities like the Santa Clara Building-Trades Council that have vested interests in the BART extension. If VTA actually conducts the poll, VTA could provide likely voters more details about alternatives and trade-offs, rather than testing campaign messages that provide the most positive responses.

The full VTA Board, as well as the rest of the public (riders in particular), should have complete access to polling information when the board considers tax increases. VTA Boardmembers also should not feel threatened by private lobbying groups like SVLG because of their interpretation of their own polls. The only way to accomplish these is for VTA to conduct its own polling.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guardino should spend his own money to put his tax measure on the ballot

Carl Guardino, through his chief surrogate, continues to insist that his private polls are indeed private polls. According to the Mercury News, Guardino did not reveal the polling results even to some of the key VTA Board members, who will decide whether to place the tax on the ballot next week.

The VTA Board should not reward SVLG for its commitment to secrecy by placing the tax measure on the ballot for free. SVLG, like other groups, can always place their own initiative on the ballot through the signature gathering process. If SVLG and its cohorts are willing to spend $2 millions on a campaign, SVLG can certainly pay a buck or more per signature to get it on the ballot.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What weaknesses do VTA and SVLG have to hide?

An article appeared on this week's Metro exposes the lack of certainty on VTA's part to complete the BART project.

We know that an 1/8 cent tax will not be enough to cover the minimum cost to operate BART, so where would the rest of the money come from? If you think VTA's General Manager Michael Burns knows the answer, he doesn't.

"Even the general manager for VTA says the cost to run BART through the South Bay is a moving target, " according to that article.

If VTA even contemplates cutting service or deferring other projects to fund BART, these conversations need to take place before VTA places the tax on the ballot, rather than after the election. Voters need to have a clear picture of what the risks are. So far, not only VTA has not provided any evidence that VTA can keep its words, VTA also relied on SVLG's private polls so that voters won't know what are VTA's weaknesses. Instead of correcting its weaknesses as a way to build public confidence, VTA chose to hide those from the voters.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GM Burns' response to Scott Herhold's column

Last Sunday, the 2001 agreement between BART and VTA was brought up on Scott Herhold's column. One of the issues discussed is the lien BART will have on the TDA funds (a 1/4 sales tax collected by the state) that VTA currently spends on bus and light rail operation, if VTA cannot identify another funding source (a new tax) to operate the BART extension by 2009.

According to his column, some suggested that the tax is a way to fund VTA through the back door. They argued that VTA could still fund BART with its existing taxes by making VTA operate more efficiently.

Today, in an email message, VTA's GM Michael Burns shot back. Burns wrote that VTA is facing raising cost and that the federal government will never fund BART if VTA had to cut existing services.

There are some truths in what they said, but they are also wrong in some respects.

Rising fuel cost is impacting VTA's budget. Even with the growing ridership, it is hard to imagine that additional fare revenue will keep up with the increasing fuel expenses. At the same time, the state is cutting back funding to public transportation as it tries to resolve its budget deficit. VTA does not have the kind of reserve to fund BART.

At the same time, the 1/8 cent tax will not be able to fund BART without putting a substantial risk on existing bus and light rail operation. VTA has admitted that the 1/8 tax will not completely cover the upfront payment to BART. Also, if the extension fails to meet ridership projection (which it won't), VTA would have to pay more to BART on top of that upfront payment. Under such scenario, VTA not only would have an incentive to cut transit service to fund BART by reducing its expenses, but also by forcing its bus riders to pay more on BART.

In addition, VTA has yet to release an expenditure plan, which would provide clues as to how VTA could borrow enough funds to support a massive construction in downtown San Jose (especially given the construction timetable), along with other commitments like Caltrain, light rail and bus rapid transit throughout the county. Just talking about the operating cost is an attempt to whitewash the risks VTA would face. Will this be the last time VTA ask for a tax increase if it passes? Or will this be one of many times VTA ask taxpayers for a bailout?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The cat is out of the bag

Finally the cat is out of the bag. VTA intends to place a 1/8 cent tax on the November ballot just for the BART extension. The proponents say the tax won't kick in until VTA receives other matching funds from the state and the federal government.

Regardless of when VTA would actually receive matching funds, a new tax (short of what VTA says it needs) would certainly put local bus and paratransit service in jeopardy.

Remember when VTA proposed a 21% transit reduction in 2003? It will happen again if this tax were to go forward.

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.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another county tax increase on the ballot in Nov?

Two years after the defeat of 2006 Measure A, the county is once again considering placing some type of a tax or fee increase in November to fill the shortfalls in the county's budget.

Included in the staff report is the "lessons learned" from the failed 2006 Measure A campaign. The first lesson, quoted in the Mercury News article, is that Measure A was "An awkward marriage of two unrelated issues: transportation and healthcare." The second lesson is "The perception of a backroom deal between the County and VTA that undermined voter trust and linked the issues to other concurrent scandals."

The county can still insist there was no backroom deal, but if that Measure A had passed, it was certain that SVLG would do whatever necessary to pressure the county into transferring funds to VTA for BART to San Jose.

Although the report didn't explicitly say so, Measure A failed largely because of the partnership with Carl Guardino, who suggested that the county would not pass its own tax without his group's participation:

"Most voters first heard about the tax proposal through a series of news articles in early January 2006 that focused on a backroom deal with VTA, built around private polling conducted by supporters of extending Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to San Jose. As Measure A was unveiled to voters, the focus should have been on the failing healthcare system in Santa Clara County and the risk of losing vital trauma services, mental health services, child protective services, emergency preparedness and response, and healthcare access."

Two years later, the county isn't the only entity interested in a county-wide tax increase. VTA, who would've shared revenue with the county two years ago, is now all on its own. That same dilemma comes back: that having a county tax and a VTA tax on the same ballot will render the VTA tax, if not both, unwinnable.

Carl Guardino, who wants to spend billions on construction contracts to feed the downtown delusionals, suddenly becomes all conservative about county taxes as quoted in the Mercury News: "We're living in a time nationally and statewide where folks are very, very concerned about the economy. People need to have the 'WIIFM' - What's-In-It-For-Me."

We know what's in the county tax for Carl Guardino: A guarantee that a VTA tax will fail at the ballot box.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A 1/4 cent tax increase is not enough

This Friday, VTA will hold a board workshop to discuss a "new" expenditure plan. At the workshop, the VTA staff will also present a financial analysis of the plan the board adopted June 2006. The analysis concludes:

"The evaluation shows that the additional revenue from a ¼-cent sales tax is insufficient to produce a solvent financial plan with the project schedules as adopted by the Board in June 2006."

It really doesn't have to take an outside consultant to know that the 1/4 cent sales tax increase wouldn't work. If the 2006 Measure A were not defeated, VTA would certainly be looking for another sales tax increase sometime in the next few years.

Despite reality, don't expect the VTA Board to do anything different. One of the elements in the proposed policy guidance is:

"Implement the Intent of Measure A

Includes only those projects in the Plan that have been approved by voters in the measure."

The 2000 Measure A was a complete disaster. Any proposed policy based on that Measure A will also be a complete disaster. It is time for VTA to start with a clean slate. Perhaps the VTA board should instead receive a history lesson on how this ill-conceived 2000 Measure A got pushed with false promises and rosy tax revenue projections.

VTA Riders' Union meeting

On the day before the VTA Board workshop, VTA Riders' Union will be holding a meeting at 6pm at Center for Training and Careers (CTC) on 1600 Las Plumas Avenue. One of the topics to be discussed is the lack of public outreach for the uninspired VTP 2035.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

VTA to restart process for 2000 Measure A expediture plan

Being in a critical election year, VTA is restarting the 2000 Measure A expediture plan process. The last time VTA approved a 2000 Measure A expediture plan was in June 2006, days after the defeat of 2006 Measure A sales tax. Because that plan assumes a new 1/4 cent sales tax that doesn't exist, it is nothing but a sales tax extortion scheme.

VTA has no choice but to revisit the expediture plan. Instead of performing real evaluations of projects and advocating for real changes to its transportation plan, VTA once again plans to shift spending priorities, adjust tax revenue projections, and push for sales tax increases. This year, VTA is focusing especially on preserving the three most wasteful 2000 Measure A projects: BART extension, light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge, and double tracking of Caltrain south of San Jose.

Besides appeasing the downtown delusionals, VTA also has a vested interest to turn these wasteful projects into fruition. Like our military industrial complex, VTA hires many engineers and consultants that make millions of dollars on conducting studies and plans. For years, VTA argued that planning process for these projects must continue because VTA had a great engineering staff and didn't want to lay them off. Meanwhile, VTA had no problems reducing service and laying off bus drivers and mechanics.

Unlike the last review, VTA this time plans to develop multiple scenarios that include no new taxes, a new 1/8 cent sales tax, and a new 1/4 cent sales tax. However, VTA proposes not to consider projects other than those listed on the 2000 Measure A. Without a comprehensive review and a call for new projects, what VTA is proposing is just another way to sell new taxes for ill conceived projects (example: If you don't increase the sales tax by XX, then BART won't be built, and there's no alternative except BART). Legally, there's no mandate for VTA to exclude new projects, especially if VTA is planning to place a new sales tax on the ballot. Even projects like Caltrain Metro East, which every agency refuses to study based on political grounds, is actually eligible for funding under the 2000 Measure A because it is an ACE upgrade, a project specifically listed in the 2000 Measure A.

At tonight's meeting, the staff will introduce the board on the planning process. Later this month, the board will begin discussion. The timetable calls for formal adoption of the expediture plan in September.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ridership gain or loss and sales tax

Although some have suggested that the "New VTA" campaign is also intended to boost its image in preparation of a likely 1/8 cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November, VTA is also taking a significant risk with the new bus service plan that may have a greater impact on the election.

Primarily to inform riders with a series of bus changes, the "New VTA" campaign is likely to be forgotten soon after January 14. However, it will not help VTA's effort to boost its image in time for election if the ridership does not turn around with the new service plan. A part of its financial problem is the low farebox recovery, which is tied to ridership and route productivity besides labor cost.

As VTA staff continues its outreach to inform riders, complaints are pouring on regarding some key service changes. One of them is the elimination of line 85, which connects Downtown San Jose with the Valley Medical Center. After January 14, riders will have to take line 23 to San Carlos and Bascom, crossing San Carlos then Bascom (6 lanes), and transfer to line 61 or 62. Other changes generated complaints include the elimination of bus service on certain streets in Cupertino and in the Evergreen area.

Transit riders that have their services eliminated are likely to leave VTA permanently soon after the January 14 change, as they switch to other forms of transportation.

However, VTA is also increasing service on some routes and adding new express lines. Despite these service improvements have the potential to generate riders, it can take a year or more to fulfill, especially considering new bus lines don't generate the same publicity and excitement as opening of a new rail extension. VTA is not going to run full buses on lines 181 and 168 on January 15. Riders are not going to immediately flock to line 23 just because an additional bus has been added each hour.

There's a strong chance that VTA will see reduced ridership resulted from the bus service plan before the election, and that's not good news for VTA.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The 2008 Measure A sales tax campaign starts now

Unfortunately, cutting the VTA board meeting short has finally paid off for VTA. The Governor, going against his other Republican legislators who all voted no on SB264, sign it into law.

There is no way that SVLG and VTA will campaign for a new 1/8 cent sales tax without inflating sales tax revenue and/or making false promises like they did in 2000. In 2000, SVLG and VTA deceived voters all the way to the bank despite the VTA General Manager's recommendation of a new 1/4 cent sales tax as shown in the memo below:

Since the passage of Measure A in 2000, VTA has done nothing to increase transit services, especially to the bus system. Although some lines will see increased service in January under the COA, COA is simply a plan to realign service, not plan to increase service overall. On the other hand, with the COA, VTA would have an incentive to pay part of the revenue shortfall (if a 1/8 cent tax passes) by gradually reducing frequency on lines such as line 23 from every 12 minutes (promised in COA) to every 15 minutes (today) and line 180 from every 15 minutes (promised in COA) to every 20/30 minutes (today).

In the next few months, expect the VTA Board to fool around with expediture scenarios trying to justify a tax increase. Fortunately, the battle against SB264 is not a total loss. Despite a very quiet opposition by VTA, the State has agreed to audit VTA.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

VTA to face state audit and more

The word came earlier from Sacramento that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has approved the state audit of VTA. The state audit was requested by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, Assemblyman Jim Beall, and Senator Senator Elaine Alquist, as a deal for Lieber to allow the 1/8 cent VTA sales tax bill (SB264) to go through the Assembly.

Although VTA officially has no position on the audit, it is obvious that VTA would prefer not to be audited. Before the committee meeting, Senator Alberto Torrico of Fremont, who is a member of the joint committee, suggested to delay the audit. However when the hearing came, he was not present and did not vote on the VTA audit.

The audit will include VTA's structure, decision-making process, planning, and finances.

Mr. Burns' extra perks

When VTA's General Manager Michael Burns wants to call it a day and don't want to face the commute home in San Francisco, he is able to get the VTA to foot his hotel bills. This perk, according to the Mercury News article, was not disclosed upon hiring nor was included in his contract.

Perhaps on one of these nights, he should instead ride part way to San Francisco on VTA and experience Hotel 22.

COA missed opportunities?

Although the revised COA plan addresses some of the community concerns, some suggest on the VTA Rider's Union group that VTA new plan continues to be a reduction in service (of about 9%)because of the reduced overall peak vehicle demand, and that the improved service on some routes doesn't equal to the services that would be removed.

Although some routes have the potential to be popular, including lines 11, 168 and 181, some areas like the Valley Medical Center would lose direct service to Downtown San Jose.

Friday, July 06, 2007

More on SB 264

Apparently Sally Lieber's yes vote on SB 264 didn't come without strings attached. Margaret Okuzumi of BayRail Alliance recently went to Sacramento and descibed the politics there on the VTA Rider's Union list:

Sally Lieber voted for the bill, but on the condition that Alquist agrees to support a request Lieber will make to the state Bureau of State Audits asking them to audit VTA. Alquist promised to do this, saying, "You have my word". Otherwise Sally would have killed the bill in committee.

Okuzumi praised Sally Lieber's move of not pissing off powerful interests by voting against the bill, yet able to obtain a concession of a state audit of VTA. The state not only can perform financial audit but performance audit as well.

SB 264 has yet to be decided by the Republican governor, who could veto the bill.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

SB 264 passing through the Assembly

The seemingly harmless Senate Bill 264, which would give VTA an option to raise the sales tax by 1/8 cent, is heading to the full Assembly. In the Senate and in the Assembly committees, the bill was passed largely by party line votes, with almost all the Democratic majority voted yes and all the Republican minority voted no.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who once sat on the VTA Board and disappointed with its San Jose centric power-politics, chose not to exercise her power to reform VTA and voted to support the bill. She did so likely in an attempt to get support from labor as she plans to run for the County Supervisor seat against Liz Kniss. Labor has been a key for Supervisorial candidates because of the large population size of the district. Before the establishment of VTA when the transit system was govern by the County Board of Supervisors, the influence from labor earned the transit system the name "Santa Claus transit." VTA currently is the highest paid transit system, even though work pressure is less than those in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.

The bill that would prolong the unsustainable tax-and-waste culture at VTA did not escape the editors at Gilroy Dispatch, which wrote an editorial highlighting the deficiencies at VTA.

If the Assembly passes the bill and the governor signs it, be prepared for a fight next year.

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.

Friday, January 05, 2007

VTA 2007 agenda in Sacramento

Regarding new sales taxes:

  • Support efforts to place a constitutional amendment before the voters of California to allow them to decide whether the two-thirds voting requirement for local transportation sales tax measures should be lowered. (page 5)
  • Amending VTA's enabling statutes to allow VTA to impose local transportation sales taxes in one-eigth-cent increments verses quarter-cent increments. (page 11)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sales tax extortion scheme

VTA remains defiant despite the failure of Measure A. This Thursday, the VTA board will decide whether to adopt a spending plan that assumes a new 1/4 cent sales tax or equivalent.

Since the BART extension has been withdrawn from the federal new-starts process last December, the failure of Measure A last week indicates that the BART project will likely to remain off the new-starts process to avoid the guaranteed rejection from the federal government. However, it also allows VTA to spend as much as it wants on studies and engineering efforts that may not translate into completion of the project.

The BART extension has many similarities to the Bay Bridge East Span fiasco, where politicians shut-off discussion about cost effective alternatives early in the process in favor of a costly design that does not provide any functional improvements. Last year, when the construction bid for the single tower structure came out much higher than originally estimated, the politicians determined that it was too late to redesign the bridge and provide significant cost savings. Instead, without having to go to the voters, politicians approved a bailout package that will increase the bridge tolls effective next year.

It appears that Guardino and Gonzales are going through the same route by spending more local tax dollars on studies and design until when choosing another alternative would be seen as unfavorable. However, Guardino and Gonzales cannot raise sales taxes without the approval of voters.

VTA is on the path to extort taxpayers' money, by spending more money on things that cannot happen until voters approve another tax increase. VTA does not have to be on this path if it chooses to pursue real studies and live within its means.