Measure M extension – more money for a failed bureaucracy – Part 1
by Dale Tyler
In 1990, after two prior failed attempts by OCTA, the voters of Orange County were asked to pass a temporary half-cent sales tax to improve transportation in Orange County. The measure passed, primarily because traffic on our freeways and roads was so bad that people were willing to try anything. Unfortunately, the OCTA failed to deliver effectively on its promises to voters. Most of more than three billion in 1990 dollars collected was wasted on ineffective projects like Centerline, the flyover carpool lanes at the 55 and 5, the 55 and 405, the 5 and 57, and Disneyland. The OCTA has an unhealthy fixation on light rail and only spends the minimum possible on mundane things like roads that most people use. We should not give more money to a failed bureaucracy.
When Measure M was passed, most of the excise tax we pay on gasoline and other items that was supposed to be used only for roads was being taken by the State of California for non-road purposes outside Orange County. To this day, we get back only approximately 20 percent of our gas tax revenue. In fact, the voters passed Proposition 42 in 2002 that would force the state to stop spending gas tax on things other than roads, but it delayed this until 2008 for purely political reasons. However, this means that in two years we will start getting more money from the state, without extending Measure M.
OCTA is planning to put an extension of the half-cent sales tax on the November 2006 ballot. Drafts of the plan are available now and show that they plan to spend more than $1.2 billion on light rail and other ineffective transit projects (Projects S and V). Also in the proposal is another $1.2 billion (Projects R, T and W), which give more money to Metrolink instead of making people who use Metrolink service pay the costs themselves. That's more than $2.4 billion to benefit a very small number of people. There is also $340 million for senior and disabled transportation, which is arguably the only money that should be funded by taxpayers. Of course, there was a similar proposal for senior transit in the original Measure M. Two days after the voters passed Measure M, the OCTA violated a part of the two-day-old law and raised fares for seniors. Why should we trust them again?
More than 98 percent of the passenger miles traveled on a daily basis in Orange County occurs using freeways and roads. Yet, only about 70 percent of the proposed Measure M extension is allocated for these uses. Even this 70 percent is overstated, as in past years the OCTA has used taxpayer money to fund special freeway interchanges for Disney, a private company that could have easily paid for road improvements to help people get to its amusement park. The OCTA has built very beautiful flyover car pool lanes at three major interchanges (55 & 5, 55 & 405, 57&5) that are barely used, compared to normal freeway lanes. If the OCTA was serious about improving roads for everyone, it could have used that money to widen freeways and improve local streets and roads for the benefit of everyone.
Overall, the extension of the half-cent sales tax is a bad idea – not because we don't need more roads and freeways, but because OCTA has shown it cannot effectively manage the money we give it. Over the coming weeks and months I will discuss in detail the existing Measure M expenditures and what the proposed Measure M extension will and will not do to improve Orange County's traffic problems.