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Old Posted Jul 18, 2020, 9:11 PM
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New proposal on Caltrain sales tax ballot measure would allow 3 counties to control money
Rachel Swan
July 18, 2020 Updated: July 18, 2020 1:44 p.m.

Officials in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties have set new conditions to approve a November sales tax measure for Caltrain, the Peninsula rail line that’s facing financial ruin.

Under the proposed agreement obtained by The Chronicle, all funds generated by the one-eighth-cent sales tax would go back to the county in which they are collected. The money would be deposited in an account controlled by the county’s transit agency, which would then have the authority to give all of it — or a fraction of it — to Caltrain.

Top staff at the rail agency say they desperately need the tax to pass. When COVID-19 hit, Caltrain lost 95% of its riders, a severe blow for a system that relies on fares to cover 70% of its operating costs. Agency staff say that without the tax — which they project would generate $100 million a year — they will either have to shut down service or cut it so severely that hardly anyone would use it.

But the tax has to go through a long and complicated approval process even to get on the ballot. It needs to pass through four transit boards as well as the boards of supervisors in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. This week, two San Francisco supervisors tried to scuttle the tax by declining to introduce it at a board meeting, in hope it would not get a hearing or a vote.

The supervisors, Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton, have long been frustrated with the governance structure of Caltrain because it is run entirely by San Mateo County Transit District, known as SamTrans, which manages and operates the system for a three-county Joint Powers Board. Walton is also a Caltrain board director . . . .

I have serious doubts that if the SF MTA can divert the money from CalTrain, they won't do it. They are always looking for more money for Muni. And the same in Santa Clara which is trying to fund Phase 2 of BART through San Jose.
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