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Elected officials release statement calling for voters to decide Caltrain funding

Supporters say sales tax would keep transit agency in operation

Caltrain, which has seen ridership drop by 95% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, is looking to present voters with a sales tax the agency says would help maintain its transit services. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

A joint statement issued by seven elected officials calls for letting voters decide on funding for the Caltrain service between the South Bay and San Francisco.

The statement — released Sunday by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Belmont Vice Mayor Charles Stone — responds to resistance last week by San Francisco supervisors to putting a sales tax measure on the ballot.

Caltrain has seen ridership drop steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are fears that its financial struggles could halt the service.

Supporters have pinned their hopes of bolstering Caltrain on a dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

"For almost a year, negotiations have been aimed at helping riders by getting Caltrain firmly funded," the statement says. "It has no source of its own money, the farebox only brings in 70 percent of its operating costs coupled with annual operating costs from the three member counties, and year to year the riders are at risk of the line shutting down. Now, at one minute to midnight, the train is really in danger of not showing up at the station."

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San Mateo County supervisors and the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, which operates Caltrain for the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, have approved putting the measure on November ballots in the region. But the boards of supervisors in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the leaders of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said Wednesday the fact that Caltrain is operated by SamTrans presents a problem.

"(That) means San Francisco voters and San Francisco leadership don't actually make decisions as to what happens with the funds," Walton said. "But yet we pay millions of dollars to the railroad each year. This inequitable relationship has to change."

The sales tax was initially proposed to fund the electrification of Caltrain, but the agency now needs the funding to keep operating. It said its weekday average ridership, at 65,000 before the pandemic, has dropped by 95 percent during the health emergency.

"While it's wildly popular, Caltrain could shut down without its own funding," the officials say in their statement. "To prevent this, the legislature passed a statute to allow the public to decide.

"The statute requires that, if the ballot measure passes, the tax money go to Caltrain."

The statement concludes, "All of us need to keep riders first and foremost in our minds. It's really quite simple. A clean deal is what the riders and public deserve. Let the voters decide."

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Elected officials release statement calling for voters to decide Caltrain funding

Supporters say sales tax would keep transit agency in operation

by /

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 20, 2020, 9:11 am

A joint statement issued by seven elected officials calls for letting voters decide on funding for the Caltrain service between the South Bay and San Francisco.

The statement — released Sunday by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Belmont Vice Mayor Charles Stone — responds to resistance last week by San Francisco supervisors to putting a sales tax measure on the ballot.

Caltrain has seen ridership drop steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are fears that its financial struggles could halt the service.

Supporters have pinned their hopes of bolstering Caltrain on a dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

"For almost a year, negotiations have been aimed at helping riders by getting Caltrain firmly funded," the statement says. "It has no source of its own money, the farebox only brings in 70 percent of its operating costs coupled with annual operating costs from the three member counties, and year to year the riders are at risk of the line shutting down. Now, at one minute to midnight, the train is really in danger of not showing up at the station."

San Mateo County supervisors and the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, which operates Caltrain for the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, have approved putting the measure on November ballots in the region. But the boards of supervisors in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the leaders of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said Wednesday the fact that Caltrain is operated by SamTrans presents a problem.

"(That) means San Francisco voters and San Francisco leadership don't actually make decisions as to what happens with the funds," Walton said. "But yet we pay millions of dollars to the railroad each year. This inequitable relationship has to change."

The sales tax was initially proposed to fund the electrification of Caltrain, but the agency now needs the funding to keep operating. It said its weekday average ridership, at 65,000 before the pandemic, has dropped by 95 percent during the health emergency.

"While it's wildly popular, Caltrain could shut down without its own funding," the officials say in their statement. "To prevent this, the legislature passed a statute to allow the public to decide.

"The statute requires that, if the ballot measure passes, the tax money go to Caltrain."

The statement concludes, "All of us need to keep riders first and foremost in our minds. It's really quite simple. A clean deal is what the riders and public deserve. Let the voters decide."

Comments

Kathy
Greater Miranda
on Jul 20, 2020 at 11:56 am
Kathy, Greater Miranda
on Jul 20, 2020 at 11:56 am
16 people like this

Caltrain receives funding ($29 million/year) subsidy via sales taxes (which also fund Samtrans and SCCs VTA and SFs Muni) already imposed on us - sales taxes which - surprise! - would not be refunded to taxpayers if the 'Caltrain' 1/8th cent sales tax ($100 million/year rather than $29 million/year) is passed. I wrote 'Caltrain' sales tax in quotes b c now VTA and Muni want to grab part of the new money that would be generated by the new 'Caltrain' sales tax, as well as keep all the old sales tax money. No thanks. Maybe the labor unions involved should accept needed cost cuts at this unusual time. As for Caltrain, a great resource, but it need not increase service and gum up grade crossings ; commuter service is just fine. The deep pocket members of Silicon Valley Leadership Group are helping to impose a regressive tax on everyone else. No thanks to more sales taxes.


merry
Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm
merry, Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm
14 people like this

No more taxes!


StaySane
College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:08 pm
StaySane, College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:08 pm
14 people like this

No. No more taxes! The excessive taxes in California are absurd. Let the politicians take fiscal responsibility for spending our taxes wisely, not the usual frivolous spending of the public's hard-earned money that's been going on for years. Enough is enough, already.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:18 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:18 pm
6 people like this

Somewhere at the top state level budget is a category called Transportation. The Governor needs to allocate enough budget to support the transportation goals. If the SV companies want to keep the transportation intact then they need to realign their state tax contribution. They all spend a huge amount of time and energy thinking up ways to avoid tax consequences by off -loading their taxes with the use of H1 contributors which do not hit their books as individuals - but as a subcontractor who is the employer of the H1b groups. And if they are a foreign company then they are further off-loading tax consequences. That means that the state agencies get short-changed in the services category.

Our state budgets are being skewed relative to budgeted categories vs. tax received. The governor needs to address that and pony up more budget.


Richard Mamelok
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:58 pm
Richard Mamelok, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 1:58 pm
16 people like this

California is one of the highest taxed states in the country and we have to ask what are we getting for this. We seem to get an endless request to add a tax for one thing or another: roads, schools, public transportation etc and taken in isolation each "cause" has some merit. However taken in the aggregate, along with income tax, general sales tax, gasoline tax and property tax taxes and certain fees each one just adds on to an increasing total and one has to consider are there things that should be cut or eliminated to save money rather than remaining in place in perpetuity. Not as obvious but each approval of a bond, also for a seemingly worthy cause adds to the states expenditures and one wonders how many of these really fulfilled their initial promise of a beneficial outcome that benefited the state. Our legislative bodies at all levels have not taken the responsibility for adequately evaluating expenditures to see which have paid off and which are just sinks holes for projects or causes that have not led to the intended result; it's easier just to ask for more money like a child asks for more allowance. Even the most generous of us have to draw a line somewhere.


Tax Billionaires, Not Workers
Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 4:09 pm
Tax Billionaires, Not Workers, Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 4:09 pm
11 people like this

Sales taxes are regressive and impact lower-income people far more than the wealthy. The beneficiaries of Caltrain are the highly-profitable high-tech firms whose employees (pre-COVID) dominated ridership. Let the billionaires who own those firms pay for Caltrain rather than have low-income people bear the burden. The income divide is a growing problem -- let's not make it worse.


Morris
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm
Morris, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm
10 people like this

If you think California is overtaxed now, wait til they start taxing us in perpetuity to subsidize HSR. It will siphon money out of California taxpayers' pockets forever and has no chance of ever breaking even.

Passenger rail is a guaranteed formula for losing money (c.f. Amtrak). The State of California has no business operating a railroad.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 9:08 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 9:08 pm
2 people like this

California has the highest personal income taxes and among the highest sales taxes in the country because California corporations and other business entities pay the lowest tax rates in the country.

Nothing will ease up the pressure on our state and local governments to find new ways to tax individuals and families until we start requiring our largest employers, property developers, and giant tech companies to pay their fare share. This seems particularly obvious when it comes to public transportation and high speed rail. These transportation methods are used mostly by employees commuting to and from work. It makes zero sense that our state, counties and cities refuse to tax the huge employers that the train lines serve most directly!

Fortunately, there are things we can do to generate necessary revenue not just for public transportation, but also for housing and public schools. The Schools & Communities First Initiative, now called Proposition 15, will close tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest companies, and deliver $12 billion in revenue a year towards local communities: yes15.org

On a local level, I have vowed to introduce a business tax on day one of my term in office, in order to provide long-overdue tax relief to Palo Alto residents. Palo Alto is the only city of our size to lack a business tax, so residents bear the cost of each and every infrastructure project approved by our city council, from fixing potholes on our city streets, to setting aside $20 million to renovate Palo Alto's private airport - even though most of these projects serve businesses at the expense of residents. That needs to change. I propose a hearty tax on receipts and payrolls that impacts only our largest employers and multinational corporations, and exempts all retail, restaurants, and small and medium sized businesses - for example, that only taxes companies with more than 300 employees and/or $300 million in annual revenue.

With a more rational and robust tax base, Palo Alto never will turn to regressive tax schemes such as parcel and sales taxes. Our largest corporations have built their success using city services paid for entirely by residents. It's time that the biggest and wealthiest Palo Alto employers paid their fair share.


Trust me, I'm from the gov't
Monroe Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 9:48 pm
Trust me, I'm from the gov't, Monroe Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 9:48 pm
9 people like this

@Rebecca Eisenberg, how can you say that "Palo Alto never will turn to regressive tax schemes such as parcel and sales taxes". You have to be joking, right? Are you trying to tell us that the city who has who knows how many unfunded infrastructure projects and pension commitments will suddenly be flush w cash and will give up asking for parcel taxes and sales tax increases?

Also, ask most small business owners that rent their property what will happen when their landlords property taxes increase as it will w prop 15. The property owner won't be paying the increase, it'll be the tenant paying the bill.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 10:07 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2020 at 10:07 pm
Like this comment

"Trust me" - I am so glad you asked these questions! I have answers.

As to small businesses, Prop 15 provides financial subsidies for small businesses and reimbursements for small businesses who face rent increases. For the record, communities like Palo Alto currently offer the most expensive rents in the country for these small businesses, despite the fact that the landlords pay the lowest effective tax rates in the country. The landlords raise rents each year even when their own costs of ownership go down. So, Prop 15 puts small businesses in a comparatively better place than they are currently.

I am a small business owner myself, as well as a dedicated tax policy wonk who has written extensively about tax policy for academic and mass market publication, so I would be happy to answer any of your questions about ways that Prop 15 benefits small businesses. Also you can see on the Prop 15 website the multitude of small business organizations that endorse and strongly support Prop 15: Web Link

As to the promise that Palo Alto NEVER will resort to regressive measures like sales taxes and parcel taxes to fill in these multi-million-dollar gaps created by our city, county, state, and country's refusal to tax our largest employers and wealthiest corporations:

I edited my original version. I wanted to say that I PROMISE never EVER to agree to enact another sales tax or parcel tax (after November's, which only is necessary due to the poor tax decisions of our sitting city council) after you have elected me to serve you a member of Palo Alto's City Council.

I changed that version because I don't think I am supposed to use these forums as a means to campaign. But since you asked, I make that promise without hesitation, but I only can fulfill that promise after you entrust me to serve this community.


allen
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2020 at 8:16 am
allen, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2020 at 8:16 am
2 people like this

It is all very good to complain about taxes and how much money goes into support the train. What I want to know is what is the financial impact of shutting down the train on other parts of the transportation system. If we are subsidizing $100 to the train and eliminating that causes commuters on 101 so much congestion that the economic loss is $1000 the $100 might look cheap. I am not saying that is the case but it is for certain that if the train shuts down, 101 and 280 will feel an impact. I just want to know.


Martin
Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 1:59 pm
Martin, Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 1:59 pm
Like this comment

Caltrain is running empty trains due to the Covid-19 crisis, and is asking for a tax hike to keep them going. That's ludicrous!!

Now is the perfect time to shut down all Caltrain trains, and finish the electrification project. Without active trains passing by, construction crews can work 24 x 7, to complete all track related work. When Covid-19 has passed, offices are allowing workers inside, and commuters are commuting, bring Caltrain back as an electrified service.

Conciser this approach!

Martin


Ahem
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 2:43 pm
Ahem, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 2:43 pm
9 people like this

Caltrain will never really be ready to reopen after COVID-19.

If we develop a vaccine or "herd immunity" some small number of riders may slowly return to Caltrain, but Caltrain has done NOTHING to prepare for the next novel virus to reach our shores. What are the costs in lost productivity due to Caltrain spreading the ordinary seasonal flu? What has Caltrain done to prepare for COVID-23 or COVID-26?

Caltrain was never shut down by Caltrain management. Caltrain was shut down by riders who understand germ theory better than Caltrain management and are avoiding Caltrain like the plague.

We need to harden our world to the next deadly infectious agent by eliminating systems like Caltrain that achieve false economies of scale by cramming people together into poorly ventilated spaces.

We need emergency legislation to claw back funds already allocated to dead-end transportation technologies like Caltrain that no longer make sense in a post COVID-19 world. Use the funds recovered from Caltrain to buy electric cars or ride-share passes for the small number of people who have not already found alternative forms of transportation or tele-work options.

Wall Street Journal:
"Public Transit Use Associated With Higher COVID-19 Death Rates"
Web Link


Annette
College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2020 at 3:25 pm
Annette, College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2020 at 3:25 pm
2 people like this

Waste not, want not. Spend tax revenue wisely and w/accountability; we're smart enough to understand when that is happening. And when it isn't. The issues raised by Richard Mamelok are valid and they call for a major audit of city and county operations. Something is fundamentally wrong when cities and counties must repeatedly ask for more.


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