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Comment: New tax eyed as BART continues to bankrupt SamTrans

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  • 8/30 Menlo Park Almanac
    Published Wednesday, August 30, 2006, by the Menlo Park Almanac Guest Opinion Is a sales tax next to bail out SamTrans? By Tom Dempsey Recently, San Mateo
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 30, 2006
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      Published Wednesday, August 30, 2006, by the Menlo Park Almanac

      Guest Opinion

      Is a sales tax next to bail out SamTrans?

      By Tom Dempsey

      Recently, San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) officials
      revealed that a new half-cent sales tax in San Mateo County is being
      discussed as a means to bail out the failing SamTrans district.

      Such a proposal is an outrage, as the causes for SamTrans' budget
      woes are the direct result of mismanagement. The taxpayers must not
      be punished for bad decisions of our local transit managers.

      The causes of SamTrans' budget crisis have been blamed on high
      fuel prices hurting both SamTrans and Caltrain, which is managed
      by SamTrans. Officials have blamed a diverse transit portfolio,
      including service for the disabled, as contributing to the budget
      debacle.

      But those same officials, including SamTrans general Manager Mike
      Scanlon and county Supervisor Jerry Hill, obscure the real truth
      -- the BART to SFO disaster.

      SamTrans announced earlier this year that it is more than $24 million
      in the red. The transit district budget continues to hemorrhage
      under its contractual obligation to cover the operating losses for
      the BART-SFO extension, which opened in 2003. The four-station
      extension has been a money-loser since it opened and, due to the
      deal brokered by county transit officials, SamTrans must cover the
      losses. This year alone, the BART payment will be approximately
      $11.2 million, and has averaged around $10 million every year.

      How did we get here?

      In the late 1990s, the BART extension was pursued by county transit
      managers over the more cost-efficient and sensible investment of
      electrifying Caltrain. Local transit officials invited BART to
      service northern San Mateo County.

      In lieu of joining the BART district, wherein San Mateo County
      voters would have had to approve a permanent property tax, county
      officials agreed to cover the operating costs for the extension
      predicated on the idea that the extension would one day turn a
      profit.

      Boosters such as Supervisor Hill repeated the mantra that "BART at
      any cost is worth the price."

      Three years after the extension opened, ridership has never come
      close to what was proposed and SamTrans has had to pay millions
      of dollars to BART each year with no relief in sight. Because the
      county is not part of the BART district it will never have an
      elected representative on the BART board to advocate for local
      interests.

      These same officials claim that the ridership predictions were based
      on the economic context of the dot.com era; however, that's not
      true. The ridership projections were developed in the early 1990s,
      before the average person had heard of the internet.

      What's true is that fuel prices have increased dramatically.
      Ironically, if SamTrans had invested in electrifying Caltrain
      10 years ago, for half of the cost of constructing the BART-SFO
      extension, the effects of increased fuel cost would have been
      significantly reduced.

      In 1995, the county's Civil Grand Jury reviewed all proposals and
      urged SamTrans and Caltrain officials to invest in Caltrain and to
      abandon the quixotic pursuit of BART-SFO/Millbrae [BATN: See summary:
      <http://bayrailalliance.org/newsletter/1996/96-1grandjury.html>. The
      grand jury was rebuffed and the Jerry Hills of the world won out.

      Now these same officials would like to increase sales tax in San
      Mateo County to the highest in the Bay Area to compensate for their
      mistakes.

      This disaster is man made. Let those same men find another solution,
      and let us, the taxpayers, not forget those men who made this
      disaster.


      Tom Dempsey lives in Portola Valley and was a member of the county's
      1995 civil grand jury.


      [BATN: See also:

      Letter: BART-SFO extension proves to be financial disaster
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/31031

      Letter: Renegotiate catastrophically disastrous BART SFO deal
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/30936

      BART Millbrae extension losing $10m/year; Jerry Hill happy
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/27911

      SMCo. BART disaster: We told you so, in 1995
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/24729 ]
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