Mayor Ed Lee has an opportunity to champion one of the smartest proposals to come out under his administration: A ballot measure to restore SF’s vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. The measure would raise crucially needed revenue that would boost transit and make San Francisco’s streets safer.
But the mayor has recently appeared reticent about supporting the measure, especially since a poll showed early this month that only 44 percent of respondents said they would vote for it — even after hearing that it would raise roughly $1 billion over the next 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements, and road re-paving.
The VLF increase was proposed by the Mayor’s T2030 Transportation Task Force, along with two $500 million general obligation bonds and a half-cent sales tax increase that would go to voters in 2016. Restoring the VLF to 2 percent, from the 0.65 percent level in place since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed it in 2004, is the only measure in the set that specifically asks drivers to pay more towards maintaining and upgrading the entire transportation system.
Yet despite the mayor’s successful campaign to repeal Sunday parking metering, which he claimed would garner motorist support for the ballot measures, Mayor Lee might abandon the VLF measure anyway. That scenario worries Supervisor Scott Wiener enough that he introduced a backup plan last week, in the form of a charter amendment tying general fund spending for Muni to population growth.
But rather than taking precious funds from other crucial city services to subsidize the costs of driving, restoring the VLF instead would help recoup the devastating loss of transportation revenue caused by Schwarzenegger’s move, without actually increasing the fee beyond its historic levels.
“It’s what everybody paid for 50 years. 1948 is when it started, at 2 percent,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told Streetsblog.
The lion’s share of local street and transportation spending comes from taxes levied on the general public, both now and assuming all of the proposed measures pass. A 2 percent VLF represents a meager step towards ensuring that drivers pay for the disproportionate costs they incur to the street network, through wear and tear on roads, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, and crashes.