Up against a projected $1.6 billion deficit over the next 20 years, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency concluded it must bring in an extra $50 million each year, while also cutting annual spending by $30 million.
It is unlikely to surprise many that SFMTA has not yet revealed one detail of its alleged $30 million spending cuts.
On the other hand, the agency’s multi-choice proposal for $50 million in new yearly tax revenues is being promoted with much fanfare. SFMTA hopes to place at least one of the following five new tax/fee choices on the November 2012 ballot:
- Option one would charge motorists an extra $50 to $150 to register their vehicles. This is labeled a “vehicle mitigation impact fee” to generate $24 million to $72 million a year.
- A second option would charge all San Francisco households $60 to$180 a year as a “transportation utility fee” delivering $26 million to $74 million.
- Or perhaps The City might prefer a parcel tax of up to $200 per property, good for $20 million to $39 million annually.
- Choice number four would be a$100 to $300 annual fee for free commercial off-street parking spaces, raising between $6 million and $17 million.
- Rounding off the choices would be an increase to The City’s sales tax, generating $17 million from every one-eighth-cent increase.
What most of these tax options have in common is that they primarily target motorists and/or homeowners —
taxpayers who may not be regular Muni transit users.
In contrast, this revenue lineup gives actual Muni riders a free pass on higher fares. It seems blatantly obvious that SFMTA expects to grab money from groups it considers most politically vulnerable to more and more taxes.
Certainly $50 million worth of these transit taxes could well be imposed on San Franciscans if it were solely up to SFMTA and the Board of Supervisors. But that is not who gets to decide. The public’s big safeguard is that most new local and state taxes must be approved by direct ballot measures. And for these particular tax measures, it seems probable that a two-thirds majority vote will be necessary, although that remains somewhat unclear.
So here is where the SFMTA’s grand hopes veer into self-delusion. Many voters in San Francisco (and California too) are in a financially hard place and have been knocking down tax measures left and right — especially if a two-thirds majority is required. SFMTA is merely kidding itself if it thinks The City’s voters are open to taxing themselves any higher for an agency as widely disrespected as Muni.
SFMTA would be a lot better off if it started working to overcome its deficit burden by looking hard at its management costs and cleaning up the cash-draining work rules that the public has repeatedly demanded be swept away.