VTA Set to Put Another BART Sales Tax on Ballot

One last chance to voice opinion on quarter-cent sales tax
Gilroy – South County residents who want to voice their opinion on a new sales tax to fund BART may have their last chance Thursday when directors of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority meet to consider putting a tax proposal on next year’s ballot.

The proposed quarter-cent on every dollar tax would last for 30 years and be used to operate the $4.7 billion BART-to-San-Jose project. To make the new tax measure palatable to voters throughout the county, the VTA also will promise more than $700 million for local road and expressway projects and expanded senior citizen services.

“It would be very helpful to hear from South County [residents] what their issues are,” said Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy, an alternate on the VTA board. “We need to get as many people from South County as possible to attend those meetings and reinforce our position.”

If a tax measure receives a two-thirds majority, it will it raise local sales tax to 8.5 percent and add 18 cents to the cost of a $75 pair of shoes and $37.50 to the price of a $15,000 car.

Before the measure goes to the ballot, the VTA will delineate a list of projects the revenue would pay for in addition to BART operations.

Kennedy has stated he will support the tax measure if it includes funding for increased Caltrain service in South County. Supervisor Don Gage, South County’s sitting representative on the board, has said the tax increase is necessary to prevent cutbacks in VTA services.

A new sales tax will not be enough to keep BART operating, and would need to be extended after it expires in 2036.

And earlier this month, VTA general Manager Michael Burns suggested that environmental improvements to Caltrain, a rail link to the San Jose airport and trolley service in east San Jose be sacrificed to build BART and avoid a $1.9 billion deficit.

In 2000, voters approved a half-cent sales tax measure to fund BART, Caltrain and highway improvements and a variety of North County transit projects.

That sales tax takes affect in 2006 and replaces the 10-year Measure B tax that expires next year and funded projects including Highway 152 improvements in front of Gilroy Foods.

Supporters of the tax measure say the funding is needed also to attract federal funding of as much as $1 billion. To date, the Federal Transit Administration has not recommended funding the BART project. VTA officials hope new ridership projections showing 111,000 people will ride BART daily by 2030 will make the project more appealing.

But recent history proves that projections don’t always match reality. The ridership predicted for the much-anticipated BART extension to San Francisco International Airport have not materialized.

Planners in San Mateo County first guessed that 54,678 people would ride that train daily, and then made a revised forecast of 40,000. In August 2005, BART to SFO was used by an average of 30,247 riders, a 7.7 percent increase over August 2004.

Thursday’s meeting is at 5:30pm, in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose. Supervisor Don Gage can be reached at 299-5010 or [email protected] Reach Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy at 779-7259 or [email protected]

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