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SJ Mercury News Opinion: BART tax would throw good money after bad | Cypress Semiconductor

SJ Mercury News Opinion: BART tax would throw good money after bad

Last Updated: 
May 24, 2012

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is after our money again with another one-eighth cent sales tax to fund this year's version of BART-to-San Jose. It already collects two separate half-cent local sales taxes and another quarter-cent state sales tax that add up to a total tax burden exceeding $250 million a year. That could buy 46,000 clean hybrid cars over a five-year period, enough to carry all light-rail passengers four times over.

The VTA claims to fight traffic congestion, but it carries at most 2 percent of Santa Clara County's commuter trips, of which fewer than 1 percent are on light rail. This is no surprise. Even the country's mosttraveled light rail, the Blue Line in Los Angeles, carries the equivalent traffic of just one freeway lane. The VTA does much worse, garnering just 9.7 percent of its revenue from passengers, who ride trains that, according to calculations from federal data, average just 15 passengers. Over half of VTA funding comes from taxes -- that's why it needs another tax, to fund an operation that isn't economically viable. Meanwhile the Mineta Transportation Institute reports that our anemic bus system needs funding, at a time when we've been spending $40 million per mile to build light rail.

Bad to worse

So how do you fix two inefficient, partially constructed transportation systems? Build a third one, of course. Let's do BART, a 1960s technology that's really expensive.

Sometimes it's more efficient just to widen the road. The latest 2003 study from transportation-savvy Reason Foundation in Los Angeles reports that a mile of freeway in Santa Clara County costs $10 million- $20 million. Expressways are much cheaper. With higher capacity and lower cost, these roads carry 12 to 70 times more passenger miles per dollar than light rail. By 2020, we should be driving on a good highway system in zero-pollution electric cars – a cheap, convenient, ecological solution. Instead we could be saddled with BART and light rail that would carry less than 5 percent of commuter trips even by VTA's rosy estimates. And note that the percentage of passenger miles carried by VTA would be still smaller, because auto trips are typically more than twice as long as light-rail or bus trips.

Don't believe the hype. In 2000, Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group said, "Measure A pays operating costs for BART, rail and buses for decades without additional taxes." The truth: VTA will need not only this fourth tax, but another in the future. A recent state audit implied that a fifth tax is all but inevitable if Measure B passes, given projected budget shortfalls. And our money is not being well spent. VTA employees enjoy nearly 70 percent fringe benefits, yet a grand jury criticized "high absenteeism" and revealed that employees spent on average only three-fifths of their time in revenue-generating tasks, such as running the trains.

Sales tax hurts valley

Founded as the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group with a charter to help keep manufacturing jobs in Silicon Valley, the newly renamed SVLG does anything but. My company left the SVLG when it began to support a new, job-killing tax in almost every election, including this one. Sales taxes have eviscerated Silicon Valley's manufacturing base. California is one of only three states that levy sales taxes on the manufacturing equipment bought by companies to create new factories and jobs. That's why there's so little silicon left in Silicon Valley. Most semiconductor companies, including mine, now manufacture silicon chips out of state.

Measure B will be particularly damaging to our economy because it will tax us forever for a BART line whose route is so poorly planned that it requires an incredibly expensive nine-mile tunnel and ultimately never connects to the airport, requiring a "peoplemover" instead. And it won't help traffic congestion a bit. Vote no on Measure B.