Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Trust and Accountability 

On February 2nd the VTA board will decide whether to place a measure on the ballot in November to increase sales tax in order to build the BART extension to San Jose. All indications are that they will do so. In spite of numerous negative reactions from the public and politicians at the county and municipal levels, VTA's upper managers and San Jose's tainted mayor have steadfastly refused to reconsider the issue, leading many to conclude that VTA is ignoring the interests of the county as a whole in favor of one city's wishes and one project's benefit.

As if being bullheaded were not enough, VTA seems to be fixing the numbers in their economic projections to sell the BART tax to the public, rather than deal honestly with neighboring communities and their politicians.
"To me, all of a sudden out of the hat comes these extra funds," Pinheiro said to the Gilroy Dispatch, "We can't hang our hat on that. It's too much 'what if.' It's almost being tailored to accommodate everybody so everybody will support it."
The 2000 Measure A tax was sold as a package of transportation improvements to the public, but has since morphed into a build-BART-or-nothing-at-all wedge to leverage votes in favor of VTA's 2006 tax proposal. What they promised voters in 2000 they won't deliver unless voters approve a new tax in 2006. VTA's credibility is suffering because of their botched 2000 Measure A promises and implications to the press they have made since that if they don't get a new tax, that none of the Measure A promises will be kept.

To make it more palatable to voters VTA is projecting sustained growth of 8% from 2008 to 2015. But there is no historical precedent to support that projection. In fact, VTA's average for accurately forecasting the future tax revenue of the county is nearly 0. Their projections almost always exceed real revenue by large margins. They defend their failed projections by saying that no one else could have done better, as if that justifies their record. But why should their projections be taken seriously if they cannot be relied upon as accurate?

The county board of supervisors has delayed voting on whether to support VTA's tax proposal, pending more reliable information from VTA, in hopes of gathering a consensus from board members who are skeptical of the VTA growth rate projections which don't match past performance.
"That's why I want to hear their explanation," Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said to the Gilroy Dispatch. "If you look at the overall average it looks good, but if you go back 10, 15, 20 years it doesn't. The question is, do you trust the numbers?"
VTA is doing everything it can to sidestep the inevitable. They pulled their application for federal funding—knowing it would get turned down—rather than face the embarrassing position of promoting a tax measure for a project that even the FTA knows is flawed. Now they are using the same rosy financial projections that the feds would have rejected to try to sell their plan to the voters. They are even considering giving away development rights at, or near, planned BART stations in exchange for private funding, in place of the federal grants they can't seem to hoodwink Washington out of.

It's become a desparate situation for VTA. They have stated flatly that they will build the BART extension, but now face the reality that their public and political credibility has been destroyed by their own stubbornness and arrogance. I guess they didn't count on the public seeing what VTA's employees have known for decades—that they are not trustworthy and that they cannot handle their own finances.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

All Bark, No Bite? 

The San Jose City Council seems to be waffling about whether to strip Ron Gonzales of his VTA appointment. Are they afraid they cannot push an agenda without him? Do they believe his shining image improves San Jose's standings with the people? Or, are they simply afraid that if they go up against him, that he will retaliate?