Nine-County Coalition participants have concerns over Regional Measure 3 (RM3). The measure will most likely appear on the June 2018 ballot of the nine Bay Area counties. As in the case of 2016 Measure AA, RM3 depends for passage on the combined approval of voters in all nine Bay Area counties. Unlike Measure AA, RM3 will only require a simple majority of “Yes” votes to pass, since RM3 is a toll not a tax. Details of RM3 were devised by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, on authority from California Senate Bill 595 (authored by Senator Jim Beall, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017).
RM3 is preceded by two other toll increases of the recent past, Regional Measure 1 in 1988 and Regional Measure 2 in 2004.
Here is a brief description of RM3, followed by some concern for the measure.
What does RM3 Do?
* Raises the toll of Bay Area’s state-owned bridges by $1 in 2019, another $1 in 2022, and another $1 in 2025, to a maximum of $3. The toll increase would raise $4.45 billion intended for transit improvements in the toll bridge corridors and their approach routes.
* Establishes an independent oversight committee to ensure the toll revenues generated by the toll increase are expended consistent with a specified expenditure plan.
* Provides discounts for vehicles that pay for tolls electronically or through other non-cash methods and charges differential rates based on the chosen method. Provides a 50% discount on the amount of the toll increase on a second bridge crossing for those using a two-axle vehicle and pay in non-cash methods.
* Creates an Independent Office of the BART Inspector General within BART, appointed by the Governor from nominees provided by BART for 4-year terms, funded by an allocation of $1,000,000 from bridge toll revenues for the first year, increasing in subsequent years.
What would RM3 Revenues Be Used For?
Allocation of RM3 funds is detailed in the Regional Measure 3 Expenditure Plan.
* $60 million of revenues generated by the toll increase will be made available annually for funding operations of the Transbay Terminal ($5 million), ferries ($35 million), and regional express bus ($20 million). This amount is "another component of the Regional Measure 3 expenditure plan."
* $1,965 million to fund regional capital projects, such as BART cars, express lanes, San Francisco Bay Trail/Safe Routes to Transit (grant program to fund bicycle and pedestrian access improvements on and in the vicinity of the state-owned toll bridges connecting to rail transit stations and ferry terminals), ferry enhancement, BART to San Jose, SMART Rail Transit, Clipper system.
* $2,485 million to fund corridor-specific capital projects, such as Caltrain Downtown Extension, MUNI fleet expansion, AC Transit improvements, I80 transit improvements, planning and preliminary engineering of a second rail tube,Tri-Valley transit access improvements, San Jose Diridon Station, Dumbarton Corridor improvements, Highway 101/Route 92 improvements, I680 reconstruction, Solano County I80/I680/Route 12 improvements, Route 34 improvements, San Rafael Transit Center.
It is worth noting that “traffic mitigation” in the context of RM3 means funding for public transit and bicycle safety, as well as funding for highway construction. Capital expenditures directly related to highway improvement total $1,720 million, and expenditures related to public transit improvements and bicycle safety total $2,730 million. Expectations are that transit and biking improvements will get people out of cars, thus mitigating traffic congestion for those who drive.
What are Poll Results So Far?
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission says a poll conducted December 2017 shows strong support for toll increases. Respondents from all nine Bay Area Counties showed support for both amount of increase and for projects to be funded. Responded included both frequent bridge users as well as infrequent users.
So What are the Concerns?
* Equity: RM3 accelerates the pace of transforming bridge tolls from user fee to tax disguised as user fee; those who commute by BART, ferry, and MUNI Metro benefit from the toll increase, but do not pay tolls. Counties like Santa Clara with a large population of voters but fewer bridge toll payers have the same say at the ballot box as everyone else. Higher-income residents are concentrated in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco, counties with the lowest rates of bridge toll payers; while relatively less affluent counties like Alameda or Contra Costa have higher number of residents who pay tolls – a case of the less affluent funding the more affluent. Increases in bridge tolls are less painful to higher-income residents than to lower-income ones. Public transit is not a realistic option to the many parents needing to drop off small children in daycare before heading off to work; so they will probably drive, pay bridge tolls, and subsidize the child-free taking the ferry to work.
* Track Record: The 2016 “first of its kind” Regional Measure AA promised wonderful projects that would restore the Bay. One year later, KQED News reported that,
Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years, providing a third of the total $1.5 billion needed to reach the restoration goal. But even with the help of an assortment of other grants, the project is currently less than 30 percent funded…additional funding is needed if adequate restoration is to occur before the 2030 deadline.
* Accountability: Multi-purpose proposals that promise improvements in numerous fronts (highways, buses, ferries, fixed rail, terminals, payment systems) make it difficult for voters to hold legislators and agencies accountable for inefficiency and waste. The challenge is compounded in the age of “regionalism,” when voters are dealing with a massive regional agency such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. More accountability can be obtained with local control and inter-agency collaboration, such as existed prior to the regionalization of Bay Area government.
* Voter Control: The trend towards creation of offices of appointed inspectors general to do the work residents would have expected from elected boards continues with RM3. BART will receive its appointed inspector general with this measure, at a cost of $1 million the first year to increase in subsequent years.
* Use of Funds: The high taxes Californians pay do not buy them good services. WalletHub contrasted state and local taxation with quality of services in each of the 50 states in areas of education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution. In the resulting Taxpayer Return on Investment chart, California ranked 47 out of 50 (1= Best). Whatever black hole other taxes go, perhaps the bridge toll increase will also go.
Bay Area residents currently need improvements in transportation infrastructure and traffic flow. RM3 promises to mitigate both needs. However, given the concerns listed above, residents might ask by what means can voters demand performance improvements in their state and local government – by continuing to vote “Yes” or by taking this opportunity to send one highly touted measure back to the drawing board.
If you would like to share the information on this post with those who might be interested, you can download a two-page handout. One page describes RM3, and the other lists concerns. Download