02 Oct Jonathan Cartu Reports: Work Now to Build a Better Ballot Initiative for 2022 – Str
Throughout the summer, Streetsblog San Francisco completed a four-part interview series on how to “Build a Better Faster Bay Area” for 2022 or beyond. After backers of the measure pulled the proposal in March, a window opened for supporters of the measure to regroup and build a larger coalition and a better measure for some future election.
However, there was a competing measure being proposed for this fall’s ballot brought by the Voices for Public Transportation Coalition that was also being discussed. Some of the best practices that were recommended for a future Faster proposal by Angie Schmitt or Steven Higashide in our series were already part of the Voices for Public Transportation proposal. These include scrapping the sales tax as a funding measure and bulking up the funding for transit operations instead of proposing large capital projects.
Today, we speak with Richard Marcantino, the managing attorney for Public Advocates, about the differences between their proposal and the Faster one and what can be done now to build a coalition for the best ballot measure in 2022 or beyond.
Damien Newton (SBSF): Thank you very much for joining me today.
I’ve been scolded by Adina Levin for calling this series “Building a Better Faster Bay Area” as the title assumes that we should be starting with Faster Bay Area’s proposal from this year as our starting point. But Faster Bay Area wasn’t the only transportation funding proposal being discussed this year. You were involved with a different proposal, put forward by the Voices for Public Transportation Coalition.
Since we’ve already talked quite a bit about Faster Bay Area, can we start this conversation by talking about how your proposed ballot measure was different than that one?
Richard Marcantino, Public Advocates (Richard): Back before the pandemic, before the ballot measure was paused, the Voices Coalition was pushing for a regional ballot measure that would be funded by a progressive revenue source, like a millionaire’s tax. Whereas the FASTER group insisted on a regressive one cent sales tax, in perpetuity no less.
Secondly, we would spend those progressive revenues not on long-term multi-trillion mega-projects like a new BART Tube across the Bay, but rather on immediately boosting operations on the transit we already have, and reducing fares. The impact would be to boost ridership, create good green jobs, and reduce carbon emissions. We called it a Green New Deal for public transportation.
So it was a very different vision than what the corporate CEO’s at the Bay Area Council were proposing, both in terms of who was taxed, and how the money was spent.
SBSF: There’s two things there I’d like to explore a little farther.
The first is the funding mechanism that you propose versus the one that was proposed by Faster. A lot of transportation reformers that I talk to, progressive people who want an inexpensive system that works for as many people as possible, feel that a measure funded by sales tax is the measure that has the highest chance of passing.
Voices was talking about a funding mechanism that wouldn’t fall on working class people but would instead fall on larger businesses and people that are more well-off.
Richard: An independent economist conducted a revenue study for Voices and we used the results to conduct a poll. The poll was put out the first weeks of the pandemic when you might have thought that voters’ response to any question about funding public transportation would be to avoid it like the plague. (Pun intended).
But what we found was that support for funding transit was as great as it had ever been. And the millionaire tax actually outpolled a sales tax.
It’s an important point that while sales taxes have become the favored mechanism, when polling is done comparing it to other taxes, especially a tax on the rich or large corporations, it doesn’t do as well.
This brings us to another point.
In the other interviews we’ve talked about how, when you have a group of decision makers gathered at a table, they will make decisions that benefit the people at the table. This is true even when people are gathered with the best intentions.
So you don’t often see a poll on what is going to work best, because the people that would pay the most under a millionaire tax are the same people deciding what’s in the poll.
Richard: One of the things the Voices Coalition was raising last fall was that “Faster Bay Area” which was dominated by the CEO’s at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council were essentially trying to ram through their priorities, but were actually privatizing what should be a public process.
When there’s a sales tax proposed at the county level for transportation, there’s a public agency in charge of doing that. They run a public process, and it may be a good one or a bad one, but it’s a public process run by a public agency.
These CEO’s were trying to go around that process by putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the process. They were saying that they were the ones that had planned for the major transportation projects in the area going back since World War II.
But what we’re seeing now is that the transit system isn’t working very well for most of us. So in effect, it seems to me that what they’re saying is, “we got us into this mess, trust us to get us out it.” We’re saying that the people who are in the best position to know what we need are the working people who operate and ride transit, not the CEOs.
SBSF: That plays right into another thing that we talked about in some of the other interviews, that it matters a lot who is at the table when…