Steering transportation funding


STREET FIGHT The coming year will be a critical one for shaping transportation in San Francisco. Mayor Ed Lee's Transportation Task Force, comprised of SPUR, city agencies, and labor and transportation organizations, is floating a package of proposals to finance transportation infrastructure that includes a general obligation bond, fees on cars, and a sales tax increase. Some permutation of the elements in the package will ultimately go in front of voters by November 2014.

It's important to take a look at what's being proposed and what's at stake, right now, because whatever goes forward to the November ballot must be certified by June 2014. In the next six months, progressives have an opportunity to offer better ways to shape the city's transportation future. Here are some things to consider.

First, whatever one thinks of this decidedly development-oriented mayor and his policies, the Transportation Task Force Report, issued to the public last month, makes a clear case for raising the $10 billion we need for transit, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure. Proclaimed as the "first of many steps," it can be considered a conversation starter that is open for modification and amendment.

The report points out the need to replace all of Muni's 1,050 buses and trains by 2030 (costing $228 million in local matching funds) and implement the Transit Effectiveness Project ($282 million required), while also showing that Muni needs over $800 million in order to avert transit crowding as the city approaches a population of 1 million.

It considers the costs of implementing a citywide bicycle network ($108 million to get to 10 percent mode share for bicycling, or $215 million to approach 20 percent). It envisions making 70 miles of streets safer for pedestrians, and it shows what it will take to make Market Street a signature transit-bike street.

Mayor Lee's plan includes a progressive funding proposal: A citywide vehicle license fee. The VLF, which needs majority approval by voters, would repair the past damage wrought by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Republicans, who gutted state education, transportation, and social funding by slashing the fee in 2004.

State legislation last year enabled San Francisco to re-establish the fee for local transportation needs. Collecting 1.35 percent of the market value of registered vehicles in the city can raise $73 million annually for transportation programs. Since it's based on the value of the vehicle, luxury car owners pay more. Progressives should rally around this proposal.

While the VLF is promising, the other two funding schemes proposed by the task force are dubious. Increasing citywide sales taxes by a half-cent, proposed for the November 2016 ballot, is regressive. Based on taxes as a share of household income, low-income households pay a disproportionately higher portion of their income in sales taxes relative to wealthier people.

Innocuous on the surface, the use of a sales tax to spread the burden reflects a neoliberal tactic to divert attention from more equitable taxation such as increasing annual assessments on commercial property owners who are reaping huge windfalls from the real estate boom. This takes us to the General Obligation Bond (GO Bond) proposal.

GO Bonds are a long-term debt financing tool whereby the city borrows to build transportation infrastructure and future property tax revenue repays the debt. Rather than raising property taxes, the scheme proposed by the task force ensures that tax rates remain below 2006 levels and the city would only issue new debt as other debt is retired.


Throwing money at a monumental failure like Muni is beyond dumb.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

Starving critical infrastructure of funding and then calling it "losers" is the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, just as letting "winners" hoard all the resources is both elitist and just bad public policy.

Posted by steven on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 11:10 am

Muni fails not because of a shortage of funds. In fact we spend a fortune on it and their farebox recovery rate is abysmal.

Muni fails because of it's bloated cost structure (due to unions and overly-generous pay and benefits) and because of rigid work practices (unions again).

What we really need is some healthy competition so that we, the people, can have a choice. How about these:

1) A google-style bus with papers, coffee, wi-fi etc, for $5.

2) Muni as is for $2

3) Private jitney buses like in Mexico - a buck.

And let the people decide who is a winner and who is a lower, not you or SEIU.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 11:26 am

Yes, let's scrap all public transit, throw away all the parking meters, get rid of bridge tolls, pave over Golden Gate Park and make San Francisco a true paradise for automobiles!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

competition with private and public buses competing for our transit dollar.

Other than that we don't need to do much - there's a decent balance right now between different transportation modalities.

But we're in California so cars will always be a big part.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

Very informative column, as usual Dr. Henderson.

We will have quite a fight on our hands over the next few years to make SF a world class transportation city.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 18, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

Essentially all he did was try and dream up ways of throwing more and more money at an entity that has routinely wasted the money we have thrown at it before.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 18, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

Thank you for the great article. This is absolutely spot on.

In response to the comments about money being "wasted" on Muni, have you stopped to consider that Muni may be failing due to underinvestment, rather than squandering of resources? Not that Muni is perfectly run, but neither are DPW or Caltrans, which are largely responsible for auto infrastructure around here. We spend so much on cars (parking, roads, freeways, etc.) for comparatively little benefit and yet there are howls of protest when we try to spend a comparative pittance on transit. If you'd like to look at the national figures check out this CBO report:

More importantly, the point about countering neoliberal logic is crucial. We can't continue to organize our politics, society and economy around a commodified, profit-driven market. For one thing, anything that is not priced (equity, justice, environmental health, social and environmental sustainability, public health, solidarity and fraternity--to name a few) gets destroyed in the pursuit of profit. For another, the government is simultaneously expected to shrink in its social functions (e.g., roll back welfare, food stamps, transit, pensions, etc.) while promoting capitalist functions that promote the neoliberal values of self-reliance and the pursuit of profit (e.g., privatize government, protect the banks, lower taxes on the wealthy, provide free parking for privately-owned cars). Inevitably this results in a system that privatizes gains (look at the 1%) and socializes losses (in poverty, poor health, environmental degradation, and other ways), and that also generates rampant exclusion, spiraling inequality, and widespread disrespect for humanity and nature.

Posted by teo5 on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 11:12 am

The problem is that too much of that money goes to provide fat pay and benefits for the unionized workers instead of going into a better service. Like many city jobs, Muni exists mainly as a welfare provider to its workers.

The pay for a private sector driver is about half what Muni gets. There is your financial solution right there staring at you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 11:28 am

Just because private sector drivers get paid half of what Muni drivers get, doesn't mean Muni drivers are underpaid. Have you considered that private sector drivers, like many employees, may be getting exploited by the neoliberal system? Many people working full-time jobs cannot afford to feed and house themselves. Cutting wages is only a "solution" in the neoliberal financial sense; it actually creates much greater (unpriced) costs related to poverty, which perpetuate through future generations and are borne by society as a whole.

Posted by teo5 on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

* underpaid --> overpaid

Posted by teo5 on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

the correct pay for a job. If drivers in general make 30K a year, then that is what the job is worth, because that is what it costs to replace someone who leaves.

If one employer of drivers pays twice that, then nobody ever leaves that job, and the entire market there becomes inefficient.

Muni is an artificial job market because the workers are paid well in excess of the replacement cost of their workers.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

Not everyone's. Not most people's actually. If most people believed that "fair" is whatever the market determines, they wouldn't consistently vote to increase the minimum wage in overwhelming numbers.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

So it is a crappy method to try and set pay.

The minimum wage doesn't set pay but only sets a floor under it. Once about that floor, the market decides, as it should do.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

Discussing it and finding something that majorities of people, though not everyone, can agree on, may be imperfect, but it's a lot better than throwing your hands up and saying let the market decide. The market has no brain and no heart. The "market" doesn't decide anything. It's just a convenient trope that benefits those who favor a race to the bottom.

The minimum wage does indeed set pay. Setting a floor is setting pay. The example, which you and your trollish ilk oppose, prove that people don't want to leave salaries entirely to the market.

That said, I'd like ceilings set as well as floors, because the market fails at the tails. Left to the market, you get grotesque distortions at both ends. In the middle, the market (or more correctly, doing nothing) works *more or less* OK, but even there I think there's a role for government regulation to tweak wages.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

(And, BTW, there are various ways around it).

There is a huge bulge of people making minimum wage, because their work is worth less than that.

But above that the market decides. And the reason that is right and good is because the alternative is having some faceless bureaucrats decide. Trust me - nobody wants you deciding their pay. They prefer Adam Smith.

Pay ceiling? There already is one. The point at which the shareholders say NO.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

I only bristle at the term 'neoliberal' because a certain obnoxious overposting comment-squatter here has just run that word into the ground lately (but maybe he's finally been banned?).... But mostly I agree that the City has to tread carefully when it comes to balancing business interests and the people's interests.

Also, teo5, I wonder if you'd agree with my mild quibble with Henderson about one thing: The tax break given to Twitter, from what I understand, was a special payroll tax applied to options not levied anywhere else outside of San Francisco. Forgive me if I've got that wrong, but that's what I've heard. So that said, I think Mayor Lee was right to take a bit of a gamble there and waive it for Twitter. That said, he probably should've been a bit more considered in his promoting it as not so much a 'tax break' but maybe a 'tax redirect' or something like that. At least from anecdotal observation the gamble has paid off--Mid-Market has seen a renaissance I was never sure would happen.

Posted by 94103er on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

not understand how much it benefits the city to have Twitter here. Lee made the right decision but perhaps didn't sell it as well as he should have.

BTW, I never use "neoliberal" because it is a dumb, meaningless word. I think that was Lilli/Barrier and, yes, he was banned, or at least severely slapped down, so he quit his barrier BS.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 7:24 am

vanity departments like the dept of environment and labor, it isn't broke.

Close up the various vanity departments and useless commissions and then come back and beg for money.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

Transportation and parking knows no political ideology. Whatever is fastest wins; period.

It's undemocratic to force drivers to pay for everyone else. Funding should be universal, truly "progressive", to benefit all.

Meanwhile, we only chip away slightly at problems, while exacerbating new ones. Think big; think city-wide subways 24/7.

Posted by Rlrcoaster on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

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