Alameda County transportation officials are once again looking to double the sales tax for roads and public transit as they prepare a ballot measure similar to one voters narrowly rejected last year.
Smoothly functioning transit and road systems are critical to our region's economy. That's why we have traditionally supported sales tax extensions for transportation. But last year's Measure B-1 went too far.
Now members of the Alameda County Transportation Commission -- composed of all five county supervisors and a representative from each city council in the county, BART and AC Transit -- are trying again.
As they craft a new version for the November 2014 ballot, we urge them to correct the last measure's pitfalls.
As background, voters renewed the current half-cent sales tax in 2000, when they extended the levy until 2022. But transportation officials say they have finished most of the promised projects and will need all the money collected until 2022 to pay for them.
It's laudable that the projects were completed ahead of schedule. And no one should begrudge that the tax money collected during the next nine years will help cover the cost. That was the deal voters approved.
It would also be rational for the commission to ask voters in a few years for another extension starting in 2022 to complete a new list of projects. But that's not the plan. Instead, the commission proposes to immediately double the tax, to a full penny on the dollar.
There are three problems with the plan:
First, the tax would last for 30 years. While that's a slight improvement over Measure B-1, which had no sunset date, it's way too long. Twenty years should be the maximum. This should be a temporary tax to meet specific needs, not a near-permanent revenue source. If the money is well-spent and more projects are justified, backers can then go back to voters.
Second, the tax is too much. The commission has failed to make the case for the immediate doubling of the rate.
Third, the plan lacks benchmarks for the public transit portion. About 19 percent of the money would go directly to AC Transit operations and maintenance. But the plan lacks clear, measurable requirements to ensure the new funds increase and improve service rather than supplement salaries.
Measure B-1 was too much and lacked essential checks. It seems commissioners are headed down essentially the same path again. That would be unfortunate.