By Tim Hunt
Time to defeat a bad bill on bridge tollsUploaded: Sep 12, 2017
It’s unusual to see a federal official weigh in on actions being taken in Sacramento, but Congressman Mark DeSaulnier felt compelled to do exactly that as the Legislature considers a bill to raise Bay Area bridge fares during the final week of its session for 2017.
DeSaulnier, who has previously served in both houses in Sacramento as well as serving as a Contra Costa County supervisor, understands the issues around bridges and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission all too well. During his time, he watched MTC, which doles out the state and federal money in the nine Bay Area counties, oversee construction of the new Bay Bridge that tripled in cost to more than $6.5 billion. It was also more than a decade late, some of which was due to political infighting.
Now the Legislature is considering SB 595 that would raise bridge tolls by $3 (to $8 or $9 depending upon the time of day). That’s a huge increase—one that proponents are justifying pointing to the congestion issues in the Bay Area. And, it would be permanent with increases linked to inflation.
It upset DeSaulnier enough that he wrote an opinion piece of the East Bay Times condemning the bill. Joining the party were Assemblyman Tim Grayson who offered a similar opinion piece this month, while Assemblywoman Catharine Baker sent an email to constituents asking their opinion with a link to a critical editorial in the Times.
The core and valid argument is that East Bay commuters will pay the bulk of the higher tolls and receive substantially less of the benefits. DeSaulnier argued that Contra Costa County motorists would contribute 18.4 percent of the revenue and receive less than 10 percent of the benefit. The two counties combined will pay about 49 percent and receive just 39 percent of the benefits.
It’s particularly egregious when it comes to BART and Santa Clara County. Santa Clara residents contribute just 2 percent of the bridge fare (basically, they have no need to cross bridges), but would receive 23 percent of the benefit. Be serious. Santa Clara County voters, like residents in Alameda and Contra Costa, have voted for increases in the sales tax to support transportation improvements.
And then, there’s BART that is in line for almost $1.1 billion, including $500 million for new train cars. New cars are critical to improving and expanding BART service. Voters passed a $3.5 billion bond issue for BART last year.
But, as the Times editorial board pointed out, there’s no guarantee that BART officials won’t shift money around within its budget so it can continue to pay its inflated employee salaries and lucrative benefits. There’s been no belt-tightening at BART despite budget pressures and the need to replace capital equipment. The board and management has consistently given away the financial store to employee unions and this bill will put more money into the overall budget.
One other key point that DeSaulnier made about the MTC. This is the outfit, “governed” by elected officials from throughout the nine Bay Area Counties, that decided to spend bridge tolls to build its headquarters in San Francisco. That project, like almost anything else MTC touches, ran more than $90 million over budget.
DeSaulnier also points out that the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco is now nearing twice the $1.19 billion budgeted.
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty is the vice-chair of the agency and represents the county.