(Courtesy art)

Gas tax repeal would be costly for SF transit

A statewide ballot measure aiming to repeal the California gas tax would blow large holes in the budget of San Francisco’s largest transit agencies, Muni, BART and Caltrain.

BART, in particular, would face a roughly $500 million operating budget shortfall over the next ten years should Prop. 6 pass, according to recent budget documents, as compared to a roughly $327 million shortfall if it fails.

“It really will destroy funding for very critical projects,” said Thea Selby, chair of the San Francisco Transit Riders group.

What’s threatened, she said, is “very big infrastructure that we all need.”

Senate Bill 1 created a statewide a 12-cent per gallon gas tax and vehicle fees that would fund $52 billion in road and transportation projects over the next decade.

But Prop. 6, backed by many state Republicans, would repeal that gas tax, leaving $750 million in annual transit funding across the state, and funding for San Francisco in particular, in limbo. Howard Epstein, vice chair of communications with the San Francisco Republican Party, said the gas tax was a burden on Bay Area drivers who work in San Francisco.

“The gas tax is very high as it is. It’s used for much else other than roads, on bike paths, environmental stuff,” he said. “We have plenty of money, we just have to spend it right.”

The new gas tax dollars have already been slated to boost transit across San Francisco.

The measure would cause the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, to lose about $40 million annually to support transit operations and a transit maintenance “backlog,” according to the agency, as well as one-time funding to help SFMTA purchase new light rail vehicles for the J, K, L, M, N and T lines, bikeway and pedestrian safety improvements, and bus maintenance facility improvements.

Caltrain would see a $164 million purchase of new electric train cars threatened should Prop. 6 pass, as well as $7 million for annual rail operation and capital projects, $4.5 million bike and pedestrian projects along the Caltrain corridor.

Yet while SFMTA receives much of its funding from The City, BART is historically more reliant on its fare box for revenue, leaving officials worried the agency has far more to lose should Prop. 6 pass.

BART’s $318 million purchase of new Fleet of the Future train cars is threatened, as “the project would lose more than half of this funding,” BART wrote in a statement. A BART-to-Silicon Valley project set to net $730 million would also lose half its funding should Prop. 6 pass, and nearly $30 million in the agency’s annual budget was supplemented by gas tax dollars.

Despite the messaging around taxation, many statewide Democrats allege Prop. 6 is an effort by Republicans to drive voters to the ballot box.

“The Republicans are looking at Prop. 6 as a way to mobilize and energize their base,” Selby said.

That effort may be flagging. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll revealed October 19 found 17 percent of California voters undecided on Prop. 6 and nearly half of voters unfamiliar with it. Meanwhile, the construction industry and labor groups have poured millions into defeating Prop. 6.

However, Selby warned, San Francisco voters shouldn’t take recent polls for granted — the Bay Area is viewed as a key political battleground to defeating Prop. 6.

BY THE NUMBERS:

$40 million — annual funding Muni would lose should Prop. 6 pass

$173 million — ten-year operating budget loss to BART should Prop. 6 pass

12 cents — the per gallon tax created by Senate Bill 1, which Prop. 6 would repeal if passed

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