This is Part 2 of a series of blog posts from Circulate San Diego about a potential 2016 Quality of Life measure.
It will be some time before SANDAG decides whether and how to move forward with a Quality of Life measure in 2016. However, there are some useful clues that can help advocates and the public understand what elements SANDAG is likely to include in a region-wide measure.
A Quality of Life measure is likely to generate approximately $26 billion over 40 years. SANDAG assumes in their 2015 regional plan that voters will approve a quarter cent sales tax, over 30 years, which would generate $10 billion. As explained below, SANDAG plans to spend that $10 billion on transit operations. However, SANDAG’s public board discussions and their recent polling have contemplated a half-cent sales tax over a 40-year period. Combined, that will mean a total of $26 billion raised over 40 years, and $16 billion in projects SANDAG can fund, above and beyond what their current Regional Plan already includes.
The below discussion outlines a variety of uses SANDAG may have for Quality of Life revenue. While estimated figures for each use are listed where available, the ultimate mix of projects and programs have not yet been finalized by the SANDAG board.
Public transit is usually not paid for by only riders’ fares alone. Instead, some amount of public subsidy is required to make a system work. The San Diego Trolley system has a remarkably high rate of its transit operation paid for directly by its riders. In some ways this is a success. However, high fare-box recovery rates also demonstrate a disproportionately high burden low income families pay out of pocket for transportation, as compared to other regions.
SANDAG already assumed in its 2015 Regional Plan that a Quality of Life measure will dedicate about $10 billion over a 30-year period to transit operations. While many transit advocates, including Circulate San Diego, feel that SANDAG’s plans wait for too long to build transit and active transportation projects, even SANDAG’s unsatisfactory transit plans will not occur without finding some sort of large revenue source, like Quality of Life.
We will discuss in a later post why supporters of transit may decide not to support a 2016 Quality of Life measure, even if it includes some funds for transit.
The 2004 TransNet Extension contained a provision for SANDAG to return to the voters to fund habitat preservation. That requirement is a part of a longstanding commitment from several jurisdictions in the region to fund a Multiple Species Conservation Program.
SANDAG calculated that the region’s unfunded habitat preservation needs total about $3.083 Billion.
Specific Transit and Active Transportation Projects
The original TransNet measure and the TransNet Extension each identified a specific set of projects, including the Mid-Coast Trolley extension from Downton to U.C. San Diego. These provisions mandate that SANDAG use both the voter-approved revenues, and state and federal funds, to finance these specific projects.
Voters tend to prefer specific projects in ballot measures, because it guarantees outcomes, and limits the ability of policymakers to change course after taxing authority is granted. Specific projects in the text of a ballot measure also provide useful guarantees to interest groups that may choose to support a measure.
SANDAG has already begun polling on a Quality of Life measure, and have included specific questions about the “Purple Line,” a new Trolley line to run from Otay Mesa through the 15 and 805 freeway corridors, terminating near the jobs center in Sorrento Valley. The Purple Line is a likely candidate to be included in a list of projects in the Quality of Life measure.
As with the highway expansions listed below, SANDAG already included the Purple Line in their long-term Regional Plan. That project is a part of the “constrained” transportation plan, which means that SANDAG already identified future revenues necessary to build the project. Including such a project into the Quality of Life measure has the potential to “lock in” SANDAG’s plans to build the Purple Line.
Listing the Purple Line, or other transit projects in a voter-approved measure can also be a mechanism to require SANDAG to build projects with certain characteristics, such as the route, or the time frame in which it is built.
Coming up, the second part of this post will examine how Quality of Life might be used to fund freeway expansions, infrastructure, affordable housing, water quality, and active transportation.