Muni tax plan filled with pie-in-the-sky schemes 

If the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency relied more on engineers than financial consultants, perhaps it might have a better chance of getting where it is supposed to go.

But as it is, it keeps arriving at the same destination — broke, with a hand extended to our wallets.

That will explain how on Tuesday agency officials unveiled the latest “transportation” plan that includes ever-more inventive ways to grab money from city residents to pay for their runaway budget, a concept to shows how the SFMTA is moving from a transit-first policy into a tax-first railway system.

The proposals include the solidly predictable and the generally outrageous, reaching, as they might, to people who rarely or never ride public transportation, but who would be paying for it nonetheless for the privilege of living in San Francisco.

Yet for those who take it daily, but live outside San Francisco’s expensive borders, enjoy — you may be receiving a long, free ride.

It will surprise no one that motorists would be bearing the brunt of the SFMTA’s desire to raise taxes to cover what otherwise will be a $1.6 billion deficit over the next 20 years, since those who dare own a vehicle here already do in the form of parking tickets, permit fees and rising meter fares. SFMTA officials are considering an off-street commercial parking fee of up to $300.

Also, they are contemplating a bite of The City’s sales tax. You know, so when you buy a shirt or a can of tennis balls, you are helping push Muni ever closer to its on-time performance goal (not).

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before: SFMTA officials are thinking about charging motorists up to $150 a year to register their cars (in agency parlance, a “vehicle mitigation impact fee”). The only problem with that is just about every city is already considering a new vehicle registration fee to cover other government costs — San Francisco officials just announced a similar plan last week.

That begs the question: How many government services are car owners supposed to cover?

But the agency’s hired bean counters decided there was potentially more than just what is under the hood. They are talking about a parcel tax, of up to $200 per property, to help wipe up the red ink that flows from Muni’s fleet.
And my personal favorite is a “transportation utility” tax of up to $180 for every San Francisco household. I realize it takes a lot of energy for the SFMTA to come up with these proposals, but the last time I looked, flicking on a light switch or turning on my oven did not add to a public transportation improvement. Perhaps the SFMTA should consider a merger or acquisition of PG&E.

The only saving grace in this latest round of squeezing taxpayers for the SFMTA’s inability to manage its own budget is that any of these ideas must be approved by city voters, more than likely two-thirds of them. And that is a threshold that will sink any new tax proposal, especially since city officials will likely be throwing more of them on the ballot and taxes are about as popular as layoffs these days.

Also, they might take a quick scan of what is happening in Sacramento these days, where the talk is “doomsday or taxes — you make the call.”

One of the things that stands out amid all the SFMTA’s proposed tax schemes is that there is no equity to the budget solutions. You know, like asking the people who ride public transportation daily to pay more for the privilege. And that is because SFMTA officials are loathe to try to raise fares because of the potential political fights that will ensue from all those supervisors who sit on the SFMTA board and promote “economic justice.”

Were they not just discussing making Muni free for students?

The last time I looked, working-class families still own cars — it is just not that easy to catch a bus to make it to work on a graveyard shift.

The day the SFMTA can prove it is a utility, then perhaps I will begin to embrace public power, because if I am going to pay that much for a chronically mismanaged system, then I might as well own it — oh, wait, I do.

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Ken Garcia

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