Says new sales tax won’t get his support unless South County
receives a fair share of the benefits
San Jose – Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage Tuesday chastised supporters of a plan to extend BART to San Jose and said he will try to delay a vote on a new sales tax to fund the project.
“Unless they modify the way they’re going, they’re not going to get my support,” Gage said. “They can’t just ram it down our throats. I’m not going to support anything unless there’s a fair plan.”
The 12 members of the board of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, including Gage, are scheduled to meet next month to finalize a package of transportation projects financed by a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase. The board still must decide if they will place the tax increase on the November 2006 ballot.
The proposed tax would last for 30 years and be used to build and operate the $4.7 billion BART-to-San Jose project. It is also supposed to fund a variety of other transportation projects, such as road improvements and more Caltrain service in South County.
But the wish list of politicians in the county is too long, and VTA board members have not been able to reach consensus on which projects to fund.
Last week, a San Jose official who is not on the VTA board proposed funding San Jose projects at the expense of a countywide road maintenance fund, and VTA general manager Michael Burns has suggested scrapping some Caltrain improvements as part of a plan to save VTA from a projected $1.9 billion deficit in 2036.
And, the VTA’s traditional divide between north and south county representatives has been complicated by a split among the board’s five San Jose members, who are arguing over the possible loss of a rail link to the San Jose airport and trolley service in east San Jose.
Gage said that taking funding for road repairs, Caltrain and other mass transit projects leaves South County citizens with little return from the proposed tax and Measure A, a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax to build BART and other transit projects approved by voters in 2000 that kicks in next year.
“The only thing we have is Caltrain, buses and potholes,” Gage said. “Take that away and what do we have? It should be obvious to everybody that there are a lot more projects in Measure A than we can afford.”
The VTA has already postponed one vote on the tax package, and has until June to finalize a ballot measure, but delaying a vote until January could have dramatic consequences for the future of BART in Silicon Valley.
Under the VTA’s system of rotating board seats among cities, two cities anxious for BART service will lose their seats at the end of the year to cities that would not be served by a new BART line.
Bob Livengood, of Milpitas, and Jamie Matthews, who works for San Jose but represents the city of Santa Clara, will be replaced by Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy and a still unnamed official from Mountain View.
In January, a proposal to study a cheaper, scaled-back BART project was defeated, 7-5, by Livengood, Matthews, and the five San Jose members. Kennedy’s presence may temper the power of the San Jose contingent.
“Clearly, the makeup of the board is going to be different,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “The pro BART majority that exists right now will change. That gives us some opportunity, if in fact the vote can be delayed, to work with other cities to come up with a plan that truly meets the needs of everyone.”
Kennedy and Gage have both said in the past that they support BART and a new sales tax as long as South County receives a fair share of the benefits.
They believe the sales tax revenue generated in South County, particularly at Gilroy’s outlets, entitles the area to at least $245 million in improvements over the life of the tax.
Gage, Kennedy and Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro have threatened to withhold support for the tax if their demands are not met.
In a poll taken earlier this year, the tax fell several points shy of the two-thirds majority it will need to pass. Politicians from all parts of the county have said the measure will not pass without a united front.
“I firmly believe the only way the voters will approve a tax is if there is broad-based support,” Kennedy said. “That argument is probably more important in terms of delaying a vote because we need to build that support before we go forward.”