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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Permanent transportation tax should be rejected

Uploaded: Jan 2, 2012
Alameda County elected officials and transportation advocates have been negotiating the projects to be included when they ask voters to extend the county's half-cent sales tax surcharge for a third time.
Public attention has been focused on the project list and Livermore's efforts to get $400 million allocated to the extension to Livermore. The first half-cent sales tax measure, passed with a two-thirds vote in 1986, provided critical funding to get BART extended to Dublin/Pleasanton.
The county transportation authority brought a second measure back before voters and got it reauthorized it before its scheduled expiration in 2001. Now advocates are planning to double the tax to 1-cent and make it permanent. That's terrible precedent, both the doubling and making the tax permanent.
Alameda County residents already pay one of the highest sales tax rate in the state thanks to the one-half cent surcharge for the county hospital, the half-cent surcharge for transportation and the half-cent surcharge for BART (effective in BART counties).
Making the tax permanent would eliminate the accountability that the transportation agency has had since its inception because both the elected officials and the staff knew they would have to face voters for the extension. Does that make a difference?
Consider BART, which has a permanent tax and a directly elected board (which makes it a bit more responsive to the public than the county agency, which is made up of elected officials who serve on a regional agency.
Despite being in a business that uses capital equipment (trains and rails), BART has no fund for equipment replacement—it is simply put a hand out and hope the feds come through or turn to the voters again. And, of course, thanks to the strong unions and union-favoring directors, BART salaries and benefits are among the best in the nation.
But, when the sales tax is permanent, the agency never faces the voters. The transportation authority is grabbing for that same status and simultaneously trying to double the tax. I have supported the transportation sales tax surcharge twice, despite too much focus on operating subsidies for inefficient agencies such as AC Transit. The current plan allocates 60 percent of the funds to operations. The sharp economic downtown is expected to reduce the available funds by about 30 percent by 2020.
The reason: delivering key projects such as BART to Dublin/Pleasanton, the Isabel/Interstate 580 interchange and improvements to Highway 84 and the flyover ramp from I-680 to I-580 even if they built the wrong connection (it should have been westbound I-580 to southbound I-680). The current project list includes some key projects such as the very overdue widening of Highway 84 between Livermore and Sunol as well as a number of I-580 projects.
Negotiations on the final project list are ongoing with the authority set to vote on it this month. Take the time to let your elected officials know they're grabbing for too much money and becoming permanent is non-starter as an idea. If they pursue it, it should be rejected.
Incidentally, both of the valley supervisors—Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley—sit on that board along with mayors Tim Sbranti (Dublin), John Marchand (Livermore) and Jennifer Hosterman (Pleasanton).
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Jan 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Good morning Tim and welcome to the fun that is the PW blog. I will offer an opinion about having to log in for this topic; it's going to roll off the list with nary a peep. I think if you are going to join PW, you have to keep the topics open to everyone. After all, you have the power to remove offensive comments or to close it to only registered users or shut it down to further comments if it gets out of hand.

I agree with you about this potential permanent tax proposal, although even a permanent tax is subject to future requests for an increase.

Posted by GX, a resident of Foothill High School,
on Jan 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm

GX is a registered user.

Thanks for the background. I am all for accountability for all organizations especially those that serve the public. It would be very interesting to see what we have gotten to date for all the taxes we've paid.

It would be especially interesting to see how much this infrastructure has cost us relative to what other states pay. I remember an article a while back that stated it cost California 6x the national average to build a mile of road.

Then maybe we'd understand better why our taxes continue to increase while our infrastructure continues to decline.

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