Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Supervisors spend taxes to see if they can raise taxes

Last week C.W. Nevius wrote (below in italics) about a poll commissioned by the SFCTA that some supervisors were unhappy with, mainly because they didn't like the results, but also because "the questions were poorly written and the Transportation Authority shouldn't have used public money" to pay for the poll. He followed up on the issue yesterday:

When the San Francisco County Transportation Authority recently conducted a poll on various tax measures---which showed that several tax ideas proposed by supervisors were deeply unpopular---a few people wondered how much the survey cost. A vigilant reader used the city's Sunshine Ordinance to get the answer: $50,900.

So we have elected officials---the Board of Supervisors is the governing body of the SFCTA---spending more than $50,000 of taxpayers' money to find out how best to extract still more money from the taxpayers! It's like those TV ads for the Marines that the Pentagon buys with the public's money to propagandize the public.

To see all the poorly-written questions and the responses, go here and scroll down to page 22. After you've learned---surprise!---that people are reluctant to vote for more taxes, scroll to page 33, where you learn that the SFCTA is putting the 10% vehicle registration fee, which is going to bring in $5 million a year, on the November ballot---and authorizing $400,000 to pay to put the measure on the ballot! Where are they getting the $400,000? From sales taxes authorized by Proposition K passed by city voters in 2003.

Then take a look at the SFCTA's Annual Report for 2008---the latest report I could find at their office on the 26th floor at 100 Van Ness---and you learn that the SFCTA allocated $68,099,749 that year for Transit "capital projects, Transit Enhancements, and System Maintenance and Renovation" (page 24). On the next page, we learn that in 2008 the SFCTA allocated another $9,509,989 for "System Maintenance and Renovation," which includes street resurfacing, and "Pedestrian and Bicycle Facility Maintenance," which is the sort of thing the additional $5 million is supposed to pay for. The total allocation of Prop. K sales tax money for 2008 is $84,217,919! They get all this sales tax money, and somehow many of our streets are still in terrible condition.

Those are pretty big numbers, which makes it hard to justify a new tax that's going to raise a measly $5 million.

I'll be voting against the $10 vehicle tax in November.

What did we get for the $50,000 that we paid for that poll? The Guardian's Tim Redmond rightly knocked how poorly-written some of the questions are, singling out Question #6 as the worst, a candidate for my annual Nikita Award, created by Herb Caen for English sentences that seem to be translated from Ukrainian:

To provide loans to pay for seismic retrofits of certain multi-story wood structures at significant risk of substantial damage and collapse during a major earthquake and funded by a qualified governmental housing finance agency for permanent or long-term affordability, or single room occupancy buildings owned by private parties, and pay related costs, shall the City and County of San Francisco issue up to thirty nine million one hundred forty thousand dollars of general obligation bonded indebtedness, subject to citizen oversight and regular audits?

Yes or no? My "oversight" instincts say no.

Survey casts doubt on taxes' passage
C.W. Nevius Tuesday,
July 20, 2010
A survey commissioned by the city's Transportation Authority is creating a buzz in City Hall and casting doubt on whether it would be wise to put some tax issues on the ballot in November. "It's a real skunk at the garden party," said one insider. Basically, the poll shows that adding a $10 local vehicle registration fee sounds fine to voters, as long as the money goes to improving streets, sidewalks and transit reliability. But when it comes to the hotel, parking, business and real estate transfer tax, the voters had four responses: no, no, no and hell no. The yes votes all polled in the meager 30th percentile, except the hotel tax, which was up to 42. However, that measure will have to compete against Mayor Gavin Newsom's, which contains a poison pill that says if it gets more votes than the supervisors', the latter is invalidated. The left-leaning supervisors, David Chiu, John Avalos, and Ross Mirkarimi, who proposed the taxes, are said to be fuming about the poll. They say that the questions were poorly written and that the Transportation Authority shouldn't have used public money. Of course, if the poll had come out the other way, the questions would have been just fine. And if there was a question about why the money was spent, perhaps they should be directed to the chairman of the authority---Mirkarimi. A decision on whether or not the issues should go on the ballot in November is expected in the next two weeks. Mirkarimi did not return a call for comment.

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At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'll be voting against the $10 vehicle tax in November."

You'll be on the losing side, by a landslide.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe so. But based on the numbers I cited in this post, it's completely unjustified to the point of being a lie and a scam. The city obviously has more than enough transportation money coming in now. More than $80 million isn't enough?

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Let's do the numbers. First the city pays an incompetent poll company $50,900 for a poll that tells them the public will okay a $10 vehicle registration fee if the money goes for city transportation projects. Then it pays $400,000---to me a surprisingly large amount of money---just to put the issue on the ballot. Assuming the poll is right and city voters okay it, before the city collects a dollar of the new fee, taxpayers will have already paid a total of $450,900 to raise taxes on themselves.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, the recipients of that largess will be paying the better part of it back to the Government, in the form of Corporate and Personal Income taxes. The wheels on the bus go round and round.

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

By "recipients" you mean the people working on these projects---on congestion pricing, on the Geary BRT, on the Bicycle Project. These folks get paid, plus generous benefits, but our streets don't get paved, and Muni in our transit first city has to go begging for enough money every year to keep the wheels going around.


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