If all four bond measures, Propositions 1B to 1E, pass, the State’s bond debt would almost double. With constant economic growth, we might afford it, but in a downturn or even if State’s revenue is flat, we will have to increase taxes, cut services, or borrow even more money to pay for the Bonds. Worse, some of the bond funds would be used in a socially inequitable manner, failing to produce long-term benefits or improve our quality of life, environment and economy. Measures 1C and 1D seem worthwhile, but 1B and 1E do not.
Prop. 1B at $19.9 billion includes costly highway projects such as the fourth Caldecott Tunnel and widening Highway 4 and Vasco Road, improving Interstates 80, 580, 680, and 880, supposedly to relieve congestion. After 30 years of paying off the bonds, these projects are likely to be congested and polluting our air. The BART extensions sounds good, but are very expensive per rider, and other transit investments would be more cost-effective.
Prop. 1B primarily benefits those who make long commutes, drive more and increase congestion. These trips are made more by the affluent while inner-city local transit is used by more of the lower-income, seniors and disabled who really need and use transit, but local transit is hardly considered.
We need to coordinate land use development with transportation; more highways only repeat the pattern of sprawl and congestion.
We also need to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Vehicles are the major generator. America uses one third of the world’s total petroleum and our vehicles emit about 40 percent of our GHG, the most in the world. Measure 1B Bonds will subsidize even more vehicle use. Almost all scientists agree that increased GHG is causing rapid, adverse climate change and global flooding. Studies conclude sea levels rising up to 20 feet. Rising water would flood over levees, make our present harbors useless and millions of people would be affected.
Prop. 1B would force non-drivers and low-mileage drivers to pay for highways for high-mileage drivers. Highways instead should be paid for by the beneficiaries, by increasing fuel tax. Encouraging greater auto use is not benefiting our environment, health, or economy.
Prop. 1E allots $4.1 billion primarily to fortify Delta Levees where farm products are grown. Originally, these farms were small private farmers but now most are large corporate farms. Farmers have historically invested their own funds to maintain the levees. With perpetual cultivation, the lands have subsided and levees require strengthening and are now far more expensive to strengthen. Additionally, to make matters worse, some cites are permitting development in flood prone areas, but not requiring the developers to upgrade the levees. State taxpayers should not pass Bonds to bail out local jurisdictions and farmers who need to do the job themselves.
Prop. 1A is another problem. It will channel the Sales Tax on fuel, a general Tax, to be used only for to transportation, while all other Sales Tax goes into State’s General Fund. We have the Gas Tax that is used for highways, but it has not been raised for more than a decade, and the cost to build and maintain roads has doubled. Shouldn't auto users pay more of their cost rather than take funds needed for health, education, correctional facilities, the environment, family services, and general government? Over the years, we have passed the regressive local Sales Taxes for transportation, Prop. 1B will use Bonds that will be paid by everyone and now Prop. 1A would prevent the Sales tax on Fuel from helping the general fund even in an emergency.
Most other developed counties have a fuel tax that is four to 10 times greater than that of the United States. Additionally, they impose taxes to reduce auto use since cars create environmental damage, increase health cost, and decrease livability. Some cities impose a toll just to enter city center. Also, several countries’ direct their gas tax into their general fund first. Moreover, somehow, they are still competitive in the world’s economy. Addicted to gasoline, we are doing the opposite, diverting general funds to transportation.
Encouraging more auto use is clearly detrimental. If public fund is to be allocated for transportation, it should require an integrated development plan that will foster greater transit and less auto use before fund is issued. This will be a better way to improve our quality of life, environment, and economy in the long term.
Roy Nakadegawa is a Berkeley resident.