The Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) has developed an ordinance and transportation expenditure plan for a new half cent transportation sales tax, intended for the November ballot. All of the cities and the county have supported the measure (some overwhelmingly, some closer), and SacTA has voted to forward the measure to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors for placement on the ballot. There are reluctance to put a tax measure on the ballot when so many other tax increases have happened over the last few years, and in such a time of uncertainty. But it is also being sold by boosters as a jobs creation program. I can’t predict what the supervisors will do. Nonetheless, it is my time to speak out against the measure.
Here is what I believe to be wrong, first as a tax measure:
- The proposed Measure A is in large part an attempt to bail out the existing Measure A, which is nearly out of money because almost all projects were bonded (a gift to wall street), rather than being pay-as-you-go with a few exceptions for large or very high priority projects. There is no reason to think that financial mis-management won’t continue under the new measure, and there is nothing in the ordinance language to prevent it.
- Sales taxes are inherently regressive, and we must stop funding government with sales tax. It is time to move to property tax and other taxing mechanisms. Sales tax places the greatest burden on those least able to afford it, as low income people pay a much larger percentage of their income to sales tax than do higher income people. This is not an argument against all sales taxes, but I think we have gone far enough down that road and it is time to STOP.
- The anti-tax arguments against the measure, however, are a red herring. The anti-tax suburbs and exurbs exist because of subsidies of their infrastructure and transportation system by the rest of the county. For these people to now object to the measure because it doesn’t continue to provide them the high level of subsidy they demand is disingenuous, to say the least.
Second, as a transportation measure:
- Measure A perpetuates, for 40 years, the cars-first model of transportation, continuing to expand lane miles and interchanges. The fact that there is money for transit and to fix roads does not change the climate-killing expansion agenda of the measure. Transportation expenditures should now be 100% for mitigating the effects of our past misallocation of transportation funds, not reinforcing them. Anyone who is paying any attention knows that the global climate change is going to slam our existing habits and infrastructure, and to me, the idea of continuing down the road of capacity expansion is criminal.
- No amount of transit expenditure will bring us to a balanced system so long as we continue to fund (subsidize) the competition to transit, personal motor vehicles.
- Freeways are inherently racist, since they were created and continue to serve to allow suburban and exurban whites to access central city jobs while not have to fund or support central city infrastructure. We have seventy years of catering to the desires of suburban whites, and it is time to shift to supporting those who were disinvested.
- Though the transportation agencies continue to give lip service to maintenance, or ‘fix-it-first’, no sooner does the tax start then they are trying to undermine maintenance. It has always been this way and will continue until there are absolute and irrevocable commitments to maintenance. Measure A contains no such commitments.
- Substantial portions of the Measure A TEP are for highway interchanges. These projects exist solely to benefit private development, often the sprawl development of greenfields (agricultural and open space lands). Citizens are forced to subsidize private development, and that development is always large developers and large corporations, never small developers and small businesses.
- The Capital Southeast Connector is probably the worst transportation project this region has ever seen. Its purpose is to fuel long distance commutes between El Dorado Hills (which is not even in the county) and Elk Grove, and to develop the agricultural land along the alignment. The amount of money going to the project from Measure A has been scaled back a bit, but a stake needs to be driven through the heart of this zombie project, which has been built little by little under the nose of taxpayers, without the required evaluation of the entire project.
And lastly, SacTA ignored most of the input from the SacMoves coalition that could have improved the measure. The input, based on Los Angeles County (Metro)’s successful Measure M and the perspectives of the Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change, was developed over a long period of time by a large variety of community advocacy organizations. Of the model proposals, only a small part was adopted. This despite the board members saying that they wanted to see a Measure M-like effort. When push came to shove, the board fell back on reliance on the the highway building lobby and its city and county minions.
What will happen if the sales tax measure does not go on the ballot, or if it does but fails in November? Well, I know SacRT is so concerned about this that they have placed their effort behind the measure. But the failure, either way, actually opens the window for a transit-only ballot measure, maybe with a source of income other than sales tax, and covering the parts of the county (and maybe part of Yolo County) where people actually want a successful transit system. The very recent court ruling that citizen-origination measures only need 50% plus to pass providing an intriguing possibility for a citizen-led effort to support transit.
I realized I’ve said some very radical things there. Comments that help illuminate the issues or give different perspectives on progressive change are welcome. Comments from suburban NIMBYs and people who believe the right to drive was written into the constitution and bible will be deleted, so don’t waste your time.
Though I have been or am a member of the SacMoves coalition, and several organizations which are members of the coalition, I do not speak for any of them. The words are my own.