Alameda County voters in the Nov. 4 election will be asked if they want to approve Measure BB, which, according to the deceptive ballot wording, "augments by ½-cent and extends" the existing county transportation sales tax.
Augment? Extend? Actually, setting aside the euphemisms, the measure would double the tax to 1 percent -- making it the highest local transportation sales tax in California -- and impose it for the next 30 years.
With one exception, this is essentially the same measure that narrowly failed to garner the needed two-thirds voter approval in 2012. The last one would have been a permanent tax; this one will last a generation.
That's a slight improvement, but this is still an excessive tax hike. We agree that funding our transportation systems is critical for the region's economy. But that doesn't justify open-ended taxation with no regard for the trade-offs.
The increase would raise the total sales tax in most Alameda County cities to 9.5 cents for every dollar spent on taxable goods. In some cities -- Hayward, Albany and Union City -- it would increase to a dime.
The half-cent portion for transportation is long-standing. Voters most recently renewed it in 2000, extending it for another 20 years through 2020. In 2012, the Alameda County Transportation Commission said it was almost done with the projects promised at the start of the century but would need the remainder of the tax to help pay the tab.
Rather than seek a simple extension and start new projects in 2020, the commission sought to double the rate. It's important to keep in mind that, even if the rate remains unchanged, sales tax revenues will increase over time with inflation. Doubling the rate magnifies the revenue increase.
The money has to come from somewhere. Sales taxes, by nature, are regressive, disproportionately affecting those with lower incomes. And to the extent transportation sales taxes increase, voters are going to be less inclined to approve other needed local levies, especially as the total sales tax rate approaches and hits double-digits.
This is not just a transportation tax for roads. Half the money would go to transit agencies, with AC Transit the biggest winner. Funding transit is a good idea. But AC Transit already receives other voter-approved taxes. If the bus system needs more money, it should make its pitch directly to voters in the district rather than siphoning off from a countywide measure.
Like in 2012, we urge voters to reject this sales tax doubling. Transportation officials should seek an extension of the existing levy instead.