Transportation Agency op-ed, June 2020
TRANSPORT BOARD AVOIDS PUBLIC, PUSHES FOR NEW SALES TAX
By W. Bruce Lee
Like the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, the Sacramento Transportation Authority continued to meet during the coronavirus closures. What did our transportation leadership focus on during two meetings at the height of hysteria in March and April?
You might assume they talked about an emergency plan related to the pandemic. You would be wrong.
The main item on those agendas was tentative support for Measure A on the November ballot. If Measure A reaches the ballot, Sacramento County voters will be asked to increase their sales taxes by one-half percent.
If you’re surprised, you’re not alone. How could anyone be expected to focus on funding for local transportation projects in the midst of COVID-19?
STA is a special district designed to administer money generated by the original Measure A transportation fund, passed in 1988. The 16-member board is comprised of elected officials from Sacramento County and cities within the county.
With public meetings not possible, STA pressed ahead with hybrid meetings during the lockdown. Public participation was limited. Email was the only available form of public comment. And those comments were not read aloud.
If you want to view the March and April meetings on the STA website, good luck. You will get a pop-up note saying the videos have been removed due to YouTube policy violations.
If you think it’s disingenuous to hold a vote to support a tax increase when the world is trying to survive a pandemic, I can’t blame you.
The expenditure plan was tentatively adopted by a 13-3 vote, despite overwhelming public opposition. The agency said it received far more emails in opposition than support: approximately 435 opposed vs. 65 in favor.
County Supervisor Sue Frost argued the public comments should be read aloud.
But the rest of the STA board saw no need to maintain the illusion that public opinion matters.
The STA’s approval doesn’t automatically put Measure A on the ballot. The County Board of Supervisors will have the final say.
Three STA board members—Frost, Rancho Cordova Councilmember Garrett Gatewood and Citrus Heights Councilmember Steve Miller—voted against the plan. At the April meeting, Elk Grove Councilmember Pat Hume and Galt Councilmember Paul Sandhu added their no votes to the ballot proposal.
Certainly, the county needs infrastructure upgrades. It would be silly to deny the importance of public transportation and road safety. But the importance only underscores the need for public scrutiny.
To discuss tax measures during the confusion of the coronavirus crisis makes no sense. In normal times, a meeting to discuss raising sales taxes would draw a packed audience. This time, the public’s voices were not heard.
STA’s rush to action with such a conspicuous lack of public participation is a sad situation. There is no need to jam a new sales tax onto the November ballot when many citizens are trying to survive.
In the Bay Area, officials delayed their $100 billion “mega measure” 1-cent sales tax proposition for transportation. It had been scheduled for November.
Perhaps STA should focus on the best use of its existing half-cent sales tax, which lasts until 2039, rather than rushing to add another tax. And wasn’t the 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax, implemented by Senate Bill 1 in 2017, supposed to double the revenue from the state to our cities for street maintenance?
Going forward, STA must revise its approach to taxation. Residents must be allowed to maintain access to the entire decision-making process—but not before they deal with the pandemic that threatens their livelihoods and lives.
Bruce Lee is president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.