SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The Valley Transportation Authority faced widespread criticism this week for a controversial proposal to spend a large share of voter-approved sales tax revenue to fund BART construction at the likely expense of other transportation projects.
“I think that taxpayers will be upset with this idea,” San Jose City Councilmember Johnny Khamis said. Khamis formerly served on VTA’s Board of Directors.
In 2016, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure B — a half-cent-sales tax that generates an estimated $6.3 billion over 30 years for transportation projects. The ballot measure specified that no more than 25% of the revenue generated by the tax could be spent on BART construction.
Last week, VTA floated a controversial trial balloon to one of its advisory committees, proposing the transit agency spend the lion’s share of the revenue from the sales tax on BART construction for the next decade. VTA hopes to break ground on the final leg of the BART extension in 2022 and launch rail service by 2030.
In the facing of mounting criticism, a VTA spokesperson appeared to backpedal from the proposal Tuesday.
“What is the best use of this sales tax revenue? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. So, it’s the very beginning of that exercise,” VTA Spokesperson Bernice Alaniz said.
Alaniz emphasized that the transit agency is far from a final decision. She says VTA is waiting for an updated sales tax revenue projection and that the transit agency’s board likely wouldn’t make a final decision until the spring.
Alaniz says VTA would still be in compliance with Measure B because the transit agency would spend less than 25% of the total revenue generated by the sales tax over its 30-year term on BART construction.
“The beginning of this plan was the question, ‘If you put this amount of funding for the BART project, how do you allocate funds to the other projects and where and when?” says Alaniz.
But even if the math adds up, some voters feel like it’s a betrayal of the spirit — if not the letter — of Measure B.
“If you say that the money’s for one thing, I think you should follow through because that’s what the people are expecting. If you try to solve another problem before fixing the first one, it makes you feel like who do we depend on to believe anything,” Alonzo Granger said outside San Jose City Hall.
Dedicating more Measure B money to BART construction over the next decade would likely come at the expense of other transportation projects and improvements in the near term. Khamis says he hopes VTA reverses course.
“We promised taxpayers that we’re going to fix their roads, we’re going to improve their driving conditions. This is just going to be a broken promise in the future. There’s always going to be other projects that interfere with the use of that money,” Khamis said.