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This Friday, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Board of Directors will be reviewing the Draft 2007 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The RTP is updated every four years as the guiding public policy document for regional transportation of people and goods through the year 2030.

The SANDAG Board released the Draft RTP on June 22 and the Final 2007 RTP is scheduled for approval on November 30. In response to more than 500 comments from more than 100 individuals or groups since late June, the SANDAG staff has proposed some modifications to the RTP.

Unfortunately, the modifications do not adequately reflect or address many of the critical issues raised by the public. I’ll go into this further in a subsequent post.

But first, it’s important to understand what the RTP will cost taxpayers. SANDAG provides three scenarios for the financing of capital, operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation of the region’s transportation systems during the next 25 years.

The first scenario is what I call the Super Lotto Plus (more commonly known to transportation bureaucrats as the “Unconstrained Needs Scenario”). This is the wish list of all wish lists that identifies desired transportation projects in the region to 2030 and beyond at a cost of $89 billion, without much regard for revenue sources.

The Reality Check Scenario or “Revenue Constrained Scenario” is the most conservative finance plan. It assumes state and federal gas taxes will stay at today’s levels (18 cents and 18.4 cents per gallon respectively) through 2030. This assumption, among others, results in a total revenue estimate of $41 billion.

Next we have the Vegas Megabucks or “Reasonably Expected Revenue Scenario” with a price tag of $58 billion. The 2007 RTP financial budget is based on this scenario.

Let me now share some quotes directly from section 4-8 of the draft RTP:

A total of approximately $58 billion in revenue through 2030 has been estimated to be available to implement the proposed improvements in the Plan.

The funding that will complement the revenues listed in the Reality Check Scenario to reach the $58 billion Vegas Megabucks target are assumed to originate from a variety of potential sources.

(Okay, I admit, I replaced Revenue Constrained and Reasonably Expected with my preferred names…but I think you’ll find mine easier to remember)

So, what potential sources will fill the $17 billion gap? According to SANDAG, $4 billion will come from revenue-neutral public, private or joint public/private toll road partnerships. Two billion dollars will result from fees or other mechanisms related to the Goods Movement industry. And the remaining $11 billion will be funded by a whole host of potential, local, state or federal sources identified below:

Table 4.2 of the 2007 RTP n Potential Transportation Revenue Sources:

  • Increase gas tax rate per gallon
  • Index the motor vehicle fuel tax to Consumer Price Index/Construction Price Index
  • Increase truck weight fees
  • Approve additional state infrastructure bond initiatives
  • Institute regional development impact fees for transportation improvements
  • Expand use of FasTrak High Occupancy Toll Lane System
  • Implement fees per vehicle miles of travel
  • Increase revenues through State-Local fiscal reform efforts
  • Change the fuel gallonage tax to a sales tax base
  • Increase the TransNet local transportation sales tax
  • Increase California’s share of Federal Highway Trust Fund
  • Implement additional toll roads/privatization projects
  • Implement additional pricing mechanisms
  • Institute parking surcharges for transportation improvements

That’s right, folks. Absent an annual Vegas Megabucks jackpot, the implementation of the region’s transportation plan is contingent on $11 billion worth of tax and fee increases. But don’t bother asking SANDAG which one of these funding sources they plan to pursue and what that means in terms of the impact to your pocketbook. Apparently, they don’t believe it’s important to answer that question until after the Board adopts the Final 2007 RTP.

My problem is not with the planned investment in our transportation systems. I understand the importance of mobility to our quality of life and economic development.

What troubles me is the fact that SANDAG staff has arbitrarily determined that $11 billion in new taxes and fees is “reasonably expected.” The TransNet half-cent sales tax extension barely passed muster by voters in 2004, and most San Diegans are still impatiently waiting to see if the benefits of that investment will pay off.

The SANDAG Board ought to be asking why they should place their bets on Vegas Megabucks, rather than a practical plan based on feasible revenue sources.

— LANI LUTAR

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