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Oppose SB 264

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  • sigmabetafiji
    Published Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in the Gilroy Dispatch Sen. Elaine Alquist s Lousy Legislation Tailored for the VTA By Lisa Pampuch Many thanks to fellow
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 17, 2007
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      Published Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in the Gilroy Dispatch

      Sen. Elaine Alquist's Lousy Legislation Tailored for the VTA

      By Lisa Pampuch

      Many thanks to fellow columnist Dina Campeau for alerting me to a bill
      making its way through the California Statehouse: SB 264, sponsored by
      State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose).

      (An aside: Illustrating the joys of gerrymandering under which we
      lucky Californians live - thanks to the failure of voters and leaders
      to enact redistricting reform - Alquist's 13th district includes,
      according to her Web site, "San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain
      View and Gilroy." Notice how her district skips right over Morgan
      Hill and San Martin?)

      If enacted, SB 264, entitled "Transactions and use taxes: Santa Clara
      Valley Transportation Authority," would permit VTA - no other agency,
      mind you - to place sales tax measures of 1/8th-cent increments on the
      ballot. Currently, the smallest sales tax increase increment that
      cities, counties and agencies can place before voters is 1/4 cent.

      I dislike this bill for a number of reasons.

      First, I dislike bills that are written for one agency or one
      person. Why should VTA be permitted to place smaller-increment sales
      tax measures than any other city, county or agency in California?

      It reminds of me of the bad bill passed by the U.S. Congress in March
      2005 that applied to exactly one person: Terri Schiavo. Whether they
      sided with Schiavo's husband or her parents, polls show that most
      American understood that Congress had no business interfering. The
      bill perverted the separation of powers carefully crafted by the
      Founding Fathers.

      Just as the Schiavo bill was bad legislation, so too is SB 264. If
      1/8th-cent increments are appropriate for VTA, they ought to be
      appropriate for every city, county and agency in California.

      That's enough reason to oppose SB 264, but I have more.

      VTA has been repeatedly and emphatically told to get its fiscal house
      in order. The Santa Clara County civil grand jury studied VTA in 2005
      and issued a scathing report on its deficiencies.

      The grand jury chided VTA because it "has not reacted to the present
      budget problems with diligence."

      Two years later, the Hay Group's audit released earlier this year
      echoed those concerns. Staff writer Tony Burchyn's reported that the
      Hay Group found that "VTA's financial capacity and future are
      uncertain and unstable."

      Those financial woes are compounded by the agency's stubborn
      insistence on pursuing expanding BART from Fremont to San Jose.

      Never mind that VTA cannot afford to build or operate the $5-billion,
      16.3-mile line.

      Never mind that the grand jury advised VTA to abandon the project,
      saying, "Spending limited resources on BART could squander an
      opportunity to build, maintain and operate a far larger network of
      transit options throughout the county," and rebuking VTA for its
      failure to consider cheaper options.

      Never mind that the BART extension project is so unwise that federal
      transportation officials have refused to recommend any further federal
      funding for it. And this was during the tenure of former San Jose
      Mayor Norm Mineta as Secretary of Transportation.

      Never mind that the BART extension from San Francisco to SFO exceeded
      construction estimates, failed to meet rosy ridership estimates and
      has been a financial and litigious drain on BART and SamTrans.

      But VTA's problems aren't just fiscal, they're also political.

      All VTA directors are appointed by member cities. One VTA board seat
      rotates between the Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Milpitas. Of course,
      South County's interests and Milpitas' interests are often quite
      different. It's a ridiculous scheme with no accountability, and the
      BART-to-San Jose extension fiasco highlights that.

      The grand jury criticized VTA's board structure for being "too large,
      too political, too dependent on staff, too inexperienced in some cases
      and too removed from the financial and operational performance of
      VTA." It reprimanded VTA directors because they rarely have "frank
      and open discussions on important matters of policy."

      The grand jury recommended a smaller board of directly elected
      representatives.

      The Hay Group's audit also addressed this issue, as Burchyns reported,
      concluding that "VTA governance does not operate as designed."

      Fixing VTA's board structure requires state legislation - now that's a
      bill Alquist ought to be sponsoring.

      VTA needs a smaller, directly elected board of directors that
      equitably represents all parts of the region it serves. That's a bill
      I could support.

      But as for SB 264, I'm writing my representatives and urging them to
      vote no. I hope you will too. Visit smartvoter.org/gtg to find your
      representatives' contact information.

      Lisa Pampuch is a technical editor and a member of the newspaper's
      editorial board. She lives in Morgan Hill with her husband and two
      children. Reach her at lisapampuch@...

      [BATN: See also the VTA Riders Union's position
      <http://www.vtaridersunion.org/causes/stopsb264.html> ]
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