If BART officials and unions want voter support for a planned bond measure, they should heed the calls of 32 elected East Bay officials to negotiate a new labor deal before the November election.
BART needs to earn the trust of those being asked to pay the transit system with more property taxes, which would be piled on top of sales taxes and high fares it already collects. Reining in the district's excessive labor and benefit costs would be a reasonable first step to demonstrate responsible fiscal stewardship.
BART officials plan to seek approval for a bond measure between $2.5 billion and $4.5 billion to refurbish and upgrade the aging system. They need the money because, for most of BART's life, district officials failed to responsibly set aside funds to replace equipment.
Meanwhile, they provide overly generous labor compensation, most recently increased after the 2013 strike and contract debacle. It's hard to ask voters to spend more when they know that BART workers don't put in 40-hour work weeks, don't pay their full share of pension costs and health care premiums, and receive free benefits such as life insurance and retirement savings accounts that are provided in addition to their pensions.
Labor costs are the primary reason the district faces deficits of $35 million to $50 million annually in coming years. That's why 30 elected city and county officials plus Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, and state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, have asked that BART and its workers figure out a new labor deal before the election.
To that we would add that BART must also develop a long-term capital replacement plan. The bond money it is seeking should be a one-time bailout.
Voters deserve to know that when that new equipment reaches the end of its life, there will be funds in the bank to replace it. They should know that BART won't come begging for even more taxes.
Notably, the elected officials' request comes from the suburban East Bay, where support is weakest for a measure that requires two-thirds approval to pass.
Most of those officials are in Contra Costa, where county transportation officials are planning to ask on the same ballot that voters to double the current half-cent sales tax.
So when that county's voters go to the polls, they're likely to face two similar measures: one from the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which delivered the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel under budget and ahead of schedule, the other from BART, which brought us the strike and ugly labor negotiations of 2013.
BART officials and unions would be wise to build trust with voters well before Nov. 8.