SFMTA eyes ballot box for funding 

Six ballot measures are being pushed that would raise taxes to generate funds for the cash-strapped San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that will provide $67 million in the next two years for public transportation in The City, the governing board of Muni is looking for longer-term funding sources.

SFMTA board of directors member Malcolm Heinicke wants the agency to continue pursuing a series of ballot measures that could go before voters in November. During the course of budget hearings, SFMTA staff has presented six separate revenue-generating proposals. Four of those — increases to parcel, hotel, payroll and off-street commercial parking taxes — could be placed on the November ballot directly by the board of directors. Those four measures would collectively generate $120 million annually for the transit agency.

“With the governor signing this legislation, we received money for a few budget cycles,” Heinicke said. “But here is the bigger picture: Our operating reserves are at zero and we recently cut service drastically. We, as a board, need to find new revenue sources.” 

Heinicke conceded that many of the proposals may not be politically tenable, but he did offer his support for the off-street commercial parking tax. A similar proposal went before voters in 2006 and was defeated.

Tom Nolan, chair of the SFMTA board, has offered support for the parking tax, saying it’s the one initiative that could gain support politically.

Bruce Oka, Heinicke’s colleague on the board, thinks the SFMTA should pursue a 0.5 percent increase to The City’s sales tax, a measure that would generate $70 million to $75 million a year for the transit agency. That measure, however, must be placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors.

Any ballot measure that would stipulate dedicated funding for the SFMTA would require a two-thirds majority to pass. Directors have until June 15 to submit a ballot proposal. There’s a chance directors will go through the Board of Supervisors to submit some of the initiatives. While funding from those measures wouldn’t entirely be for the SFMTA, the initiatives would require only a simple majority to pass.

The SFMTA is in dire need of money, but the outlook is dim for ballot initiatives this November, according to Jim Lazarus, policy director at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

He cited opinion polls, past failed efforts, a dismal economy and a fractious approach by The City — the school district and the Recreation and Park Department also are considering tax increases — for the long odds.

Lazarus did say that the proposal to restore the vehicle license fee — a measure being pursued by state Sen. Mark Leno — could bear promise for the SFMTA, although funding from that initiative could be split up between several different city agencies.



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Will Reisman

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