Archive for September, 2006

Transportation Sales Tax

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Transportation Sales Tax
County of Santa Barbara
Vote NO on D-2006.

Newspress Opinion: HOLES IN THE ROAD

Santa Barbara News-Press / Ampersand Publishing, LLC
Andy Caldwell ………………. September 24, 2006 7:19 AM

Local politicians are doing their best to prissy up Measure D2006, which would raise our local sales tax to 8 cents on every dollar — one of the highest sales taxes in the state and nation. The proposed expenditure plan is poorly thought out and was the result of horse trading for pet projects, not the greatest common good. Hopefully, voters will look past the lipstick and see the porker for what it is — a ballot measure that costs too much and delivers too little.

Back in 1989, voters volunteered to increase the local sales tax by one-half percent for 20 years. This half-percent sales tax is estimated to raise $500 million before it sunsets in the year 2010. Our communities, for the most part, made good use of the money for the purposes it was intended — namely, local street maintenance and regional highway and freeway improvement projects in our county. Ninety percent of the money raised by the special tax went to projects that served transportation by automobile.

The intent and overwhelming emphasis of Measure D was to repair and improve local roads to serve the vast majority of the population that relies upon the automobile as their preferred mode of transportation. Ten percent went to alternative transportation projects.

The biggest project local politicians promised to fund in the actual ballot language with this original tax was the widening of the 101 freeway south of Santa Barbara. The project was subsequently de-funded by the same politicians who campaigned for the measure in the first place. Keep that in mind when you hear or see the campaign slogan, “Progress as Promised” as the campaign for the new Measure D heats up.

Voters now are being asked to not only re-authorize this half-percent sales tax, but to increase the tax by another quarter of a percent and to extend the life of the tax for an additional 30 years. Unfortunately the intent of the original tax has been undermined — car-jacked if you will — by the anti-car crowd of the South County, some of the very same folks who sabotaged the original 101 widening project.

Unlike the original measure, which was an infrastructure maintenance and improvement project, this new tax diverts 43 percent of the money to environmental and government pork projects. This diversion of monies, in the end, will leave our local transportation infrastructure in shambles and our freeways in gridlock, and we can prove it. Let us walk through the math together.

The original 1989 Measure D raised $500 million over a 20-year period. That comes out to roughly $25 million per year. As indicated, almost all of this money, some 90 percent, was spent doing local road maintenance and regional transportation projects.

Measure D2006 aims to raise $1.5 billion over a 30-year period. That comes out to $50 million a year. So how is it that we claim our roads will be in worse shape than ever as a result of this prolonged tax increase? Well, here is where we need to do a two-part math test.

The first part of the math test is to subtract 43 percent of the $1.5 billion that will not be spent on street maintenance or regional transportation infrastructure. Instead, this $688 million will be spent on such things as sidewalk improvements and bike paths in our county.

Additionally, a significant amount will actually be spent in Ventura County helping residents there get a discounted ride to work at our expense, via buses and what is sure to be an ill-fated commuter rail system that will end up costing hundreds of millions to build, subsidize and operate.

The bottom line is that after you subtract the $688 million, you end up with $850 million left for roads and freeways in the county over a 30-year period. That comes out to $28 million a year, slightly more per year than the original measure, which brings us to the second part of our math problem.

Since the first Measure D was enacted, the price of materials and labor have more than tripled, and that is a very conservative estimate. Therefore, $28 million per year for the next 30 years will not buy us what $25 million per year purchased during the last 20 years. In 1990, the cost per cubic yard for freeway structure costs was $295. Today, it is more than $750. The cost per cubic yard of pavement in 1990 was $68. Today it is more than $325. If we approve this renewal measure, we are, in reality, going to have roughly two-thirds less work done each year than we have had since the original measure was enacted.

The fact that construction costs have more than tripled, coupled with the fact that the new measure raises three times as much as the original measure, means that every penny of this new measure should be devoted to local roads and regional freeway and highway systems simply to maintain the status quo.

But instead, as proposed, every penny in raised taxes diverted will become a penny deeper in debt we will go.

Now, consider what the bureaucrats are trying to pass off as a renewal of Measure D.

First of all, unlike the original, the renewal is a three-quarter-cent sales tax that won’t sunset for 30 years. That is bad enough, but consider how the money is going to be spent. Instead of the original 70 percent (local)-30 percent (regional) split, the local program allocation is 50 percent, or $787.5 million, but from that amount, $179.6 million, or 23 percent, must go to non-auto-serving projects.

The city of Santa Barbara is allocating 40 percent of its local monies to alternatives; Carpinteria, 30 percent. The regional program allocation is also $787.5 million, but from that a whopping $509 million, or 65 percent, must go to alternatives to the automobile.

Spending money on alternative transportation may sound trendy, but think about what this means for South Coast residents.

One of the biggest problems with the project list is that the South County has virtually no highway or freeway construction projects, other than the 101 widening and one overpass, for the next 30 years. We all know the widening project will be undersized by the time it is finished.

Yet there are no allocations for any additional highway and freeway construction projects in the South County for the next 30 years? This is a recipe for gridlock.

Another issue has to do with a $126 million rail project that would serve the residents of Ventura County as they commute to Santa Barbara for their jobs. Shouldn’t that be a state project, since it serves two counties and the purpose of the project is to alleviate traffic on a state freeway?

We have nothing against commuter rail, but does it make sense to raise sales taxes in Santa Barbara County so that our residents will be forced to subsidize the commute for residents of Ventura County? Why is there not, at a minimum, any required matching funds from Ventura County in the proposal? Could it be because Ventura County says they are not at all interested in the project, though it would serve their own citizenry?

The $126 million figure doesn’t even include all the operating or future costs of the rail project. These types of projects are notorious throughout the nation for running up huge deficits, and Santa Barbara County residents, most of whom will never use the train, will be on the hook to pay.

Personally, we are hoping voters soundly defeat this so-called renewal of Measure D, because we believe this renewal measure is an imposter. It pretends to be a renewal of the original measure, but it is not. Whereas, we believe the original D was a good thing and should have been brought back in its original form to the voters for reauthorization, the measure you are going to be asked to vote on this fall represents fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars. It is an extreme example of pork barrel politics on a local level.

If you want to spend more and get less, then go ahead and plan on voting for this measure. We would rather we put away the lipstick and come back before 2010 with a better spending plan while we still have the time to do it right.

The author is executive director for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB).All Content Copyright © 2006 Santa Barbara News-Press / Ampersand Publishing, LLC unless otherwise specified.


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