As we consider the Alameda County transportation tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot, we begin with the premise that smoothly functioning transit and road systems benefit our regional economy.
But that doesn't mean taxpayers should be boundlessly tapped for more bus service and street construction money. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Measure B-1 would do. And that's why we recommend that voters reject it.
For context, recall that county voters in 2000 approved Measure B, a 20-year extension of a half-cent transportation sales tax. Now, halfway through the extension period, the Alameda County Transportation Commission says it's almost done with the work but will, as expected, need all of the future Measure B money to help pay the tab. That's reasonable.
But the story doesn't end there. The commission has become like the kid who spent all his allowance before the end of the month and now wants his parents to double his monthly stipend -- forever.
Measure B-1 would increase the transportation portion of sales tax from a half-cent to a full penny on every dollar spent. Based on fiscal year 2011-12, that would boost the commission's annual sales tax revenue from about $113 million to $226 million.
In most cities in the county, the total sales tax would reach 9.25 percent. Here's the kicker: The measure would make the penny for transportation permanent. A temporary tax would morph into an unending levy.
Thirty years from now, voters would have a chance to weigh in again -- but not on the amount of the tax, only on which new construction projects would be funded. The money for transit operations would be untouchable.
The commission says it needs the money to make up for declining state and federal transportation funding in recent years. History shows us that those funds fluctuate. We should not be imposing a permanent local tax to cover the cyclical revenue reductions from other sources.
Backers of the measure also argue that the new tax money would go for critical projects essential to the well-being of the regional economy. That's what they said a decade ago. To us, this looks like a political wish list where everyone got a little something in exchange for support.
AC Transit would be a huge winner, receiving 18 percent of the new money. We don't understand why tax increases for individual transit systems should be approved through a regional measure, especially when they're already receiving other voter-approved taxes. If AC Transit needs more money, it should appeal separately to voters and make its case accordingly.
Sales taxes disproportionately affect the less wealthy. They should be used with caution. Doubling the transportation portion and making it permanent goes too far. Vote no on Measure B-1.