East Bay Express: BART's big gift to wealthy corporations

Jul 18, 2013

BART's board of directors, many of whom were elected on progressive, pro-labor platforms, have taken a hard line against employees at the bargaining table, arguing that the transit system is starved for cash. In truth, however, BART's financial documents show that the agency regularly diverts tens of millions of tax dollars each year that could be used to fund day-to-day operations — including worker salaries — toward expensive expansion projects, such as the planned rail extensions to San Jose and distant East Bay suburbs. Moreover, transportation experts say that BART has, in effect, provided massive financial subsidies to corporations and large land owners that have benefitted the most from its services by exempting them from having to help pay for the system.

In fact, BART is funded almost entirely through regressive means — fees and taxes that impact low-income consumers the most. Currently, passenger fares and local sales tax revenues make up 87 percent of all revenue in BART's operating budget. In addition, BART directs some of these funds to pay for capital projects, including rail extensions.

But transit policy experts say that revenues generated by sales taxes and rider fares are poor sources of funding for system expansion. Moreover, the diversion of such funds to capital projects means that BART is effectively underfunding operations and maintenance, and squeezing the pay and benefits of its workforce in the process. Transit experts say that this has made BART appear starved for money, and is one of the causes of the strike that choked the Bay Area two weeks ago — and could do so again in August.

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