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Santa Clara VTA sales tax for BART, Measure B (November 2008)

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A Santa Clara VTA sales tax for BART, Measure B ballot question was on the November 4, 2008 ballot for voters in Santa Clara County, where it was approved.

Measure B was placed on the ballot by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to seek voter approval to subsidize the operations and maintenance of a BART line in Santa Clara County which is also to be constructed by VTA.

To pass, it needed 66.67% of the vote. After the narrow margin of victory, opponents filed a lawsuit challenging the win and demanding a recount.[1]

Election results

Measure B
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 414,328 66.78%
No206,10333.22%
These final, certified, election results are from the Santa Clara County elections office.

Support

Primary supporters of the measure included the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), and Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council[2].

The project was under engineering studies at the time of the vote, and VTA did not officially release updated construction cost estimates until after the November election[3], but VTA General Manager Michael Burns has told the press that the cost has risen to $6 billion[4]. Local money for construction, raised through a 2000 measure, funded the local portion of the construction and planning projects[5] In order to secure federal funds, local officials had to show they had a way to fund the operating subsidy the extension without cutting other services, making the measure necessary in the eyes of its supporters.[6]

Measure B raised the money by enacting a 30-year 1/8-cent sales tax in the county.[7] The money can only be used to fund BART operations in the county.[8] The sales tax, however, won't go into effect unless the federal and state governments agree to pay a specified amount towards construction costs.[9]

A study by a VTA consultant, AECOM, claimed that Measure B would raise enough money to cover BART's operation and maintenance costs.[10] However, the BART District declined to sign off on that calculation.[11]

Once the extension is complete, the BART system will have two more transfer points with Caltrain.

Opposition

Opponents of Measure B included the Sierra Club, Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley, VTA Riders' Union, BayRail Alliance, and Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Association, who had serious concerns about VTA's ability to build and fund the ongoing subsidy of the BART line.

In 2000, when VTA placed a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund the BART extension and a variety of transit projects, Carl Guardino of SVLG wrote in the ballot argument: "… pays operating costs for BART, rail, and buses for decades without additional taxes."

Since then, with the rising construction and operating cost of the BART extension[12], along with an economic slump, VTA had become underfunded by billions of dollars. Since 2005, VTA and SVLG had been looking for new taxes to fill the shortfall. In 2006, SVLG convinced the County of Santa Clara to place a 1/2 cent general sales tax increase on the June 6, 2006 ballot for county service and transportation. That measure lost 57%-43%[13].

Also since 2000, VTA raised fares and reduced transit services. Between 1999 and 2005, VTA ridership has been reduced by 17 million trips. In 2003, VTA threatened a 21% transit cut. It was averted when transit riders and workers pressured the VTA Board to bond against the 2000 sales tax funds.

Measure B opponents asserted that Measure B would not be enough and would impact VTA existing services and other transit priorities. Just before the VTA Board of Directors placed Measure B on the ballot in August, BayRail Alliance issued a memo stating that, based on the agreement between VTA and BART made in 2001[14], Measure B is insufficient to fund the ongoing cost of the BART extension. According to BayRail Alliance, Measure B is calculated to cover about 80% of the advance payment to BART.

In addition to the ongoing cost, Measure B opponents also questioned VTA's ability to build the BART project. After the county sales tax proposal failed in 2006, VTA approved a tax expenditure plan that assumed a new 1/4 cent sales tax (twice of what Measure B would bring) that never existed. Months before Measure B was placed on the ballot, VTA's general manager already signaled that it might give up on a light rail extension from Alum Rock Station to Eastridge due to the lack of funds[15]. Caltrain supporters were also concerned about VTA's ability to provide matching funds to electrify Caltrain[16].

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:

MEASURE B: "To reduce dependence on foreign oil, help relieve soaring gas prices and combat climate change, shall the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority enact a 1/8 cent sales tax limited to thirty years for BART to operate/ maintain/ improve the 16.1 mile Santa Clara County BART extension, with stations in Milpitas, San Jose, and Santa Clara, connecting with Caltrain from Gilroy to San Francisco and an Airport People Mover, to be collected only if sufficient state/federal funds are secured to match local construction dollars?"[17]

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References