|Once again, efforts are underway to bring Bay Area Rapid Transit to San Jose with the help of a sales tax increase.
This time, however, the proposed increase -- which is expected to be put on the November ballot by the Valley Transportation Authority during its Aug. 7 meeting -- would be just an eighth of a cent, with all funds dedicated to the BART extension. And it comes with a catch that proponents hope voters will like.
Members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have been meeting with top transit officials to hammer out details on the measure, which is expected to raise at least $42 million a year for the project. The BART extension would require an estimated $50 million a year in operating expenses and would cost billions to construct that the VTA doesn't have, but proponents say the $42 million is enough, and would help match funds that have been all but promised by the state and federal government.
That's where the catch comes in: Under the proposal, if the VTA puts the measure on the ballot and voters approve it, but state and federal officials fail to come through with the hundreds of millions needed to cover construction costs, the tax won't take effect.
In 2006, the SVLG, a large consortium of Silicon Valley businesses, failed to gain support from county voters for Measure A, a half-cent sales tax that would have raised billions of dollars for county coffers with no strings attached -- though it was widely assumed that some unknown amount of it would go to funding the BART extension.
Because its funds were not specifically dedicated to the BART project, or any other project, Measure A needed only a simple majority to pass. But because this November's measure is dedicated to a specific project, it would need a two-thirds vote to pass.
Despite that, a recent poll conducted by the SVLG shows the upcoming measure faring much better, they say. While the group would not release its results, "The poll was such that it was encouraging about the prospects of a ballot measure," said spokesperson Phil Yost.
"Gas prices are hugely up, as everybody knows," Yost said. "It has people making changes in the way they get around."
Many north county officials have opposed the project, instead favoring plans that would replace all of BART with a system based on modern, standard rails that would cost less and be of superior quality. Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, one of Mountain View's representatives on the VTA board, says that the timing may be good for such a plan because BART is currently facing an $8 billion shortfall for replacing its aging cars and equipment.
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