Monday, August 16, 2010

RTA vs. MATC "unelected" officials - be consistent in criticism

One of the criticisms of the RTA seems to be that there is an unelected board with the power to set taxes. Yet people fail to complain about the MATC Board, which is also unelected, and also can levy taxes.

One difference: although it is unlikely that many people would take this course, the sales tax set by the RTA would be avoidable by making purchases outside the RTA area. The MATC tax is on your property taxes, so unless you move, you are on the hook.

Regardless of what you think of the RTA idea - and we don't even know what will be in their final recommendations for the first phase of transit in the area - or MATC's plans for a $150 million expansion, let's look at the two bodies and what is planned in the next couple of years.

The RTA has yet to come up with a plan about what will be in the first phase, and yet many communities are planning referendums to ask if a half cent sales tax should be used to pay for rail. Rail may not even be part of the phase 1 plan! Yes, I know the critics find this hard to believe, but that is a serious question among the board.

We know what MATC plans, and they will hold a public hearing Sept 8 to present the plan, and presumably judge whether there is support for a November referendum.

The RTA Board is appointed by elected officials, so you can at least complain to them about their appointees. The MATC Board has no ties to elected officials. By the way, other bodies that can set fees without being elected: the city Transit and Parking Commission and the Water Utility Board. Both are appointed by elected officials - the Mayor, and confirmed by the City Council - but are not directly elected. (Despite the publicity about the bus fare increase recently, the Transit and Parking Commission actually does set the fares, as well as parking rates. The only reason the Council got involved last time was that the TPC refused to raise fares.)

The RTA Board has voted to hold a referendum before instituting a half cent sales tax. MATC is only required to hold a referendum because of the size of the plan. They can raise your property taxes incrementally every year, as long as no one year is more than $1.5 million total.

So why the anger that the RTA Board is not directly elected, but the MATC Board gets a pass? Could it possibly be because the opponents of transit are pulling this argument out to drum up opposition?

Nah, they couldn't be that cynical. I am certain that the same people will soon be writing letters complaining about the MATC Board as well.

I'm not holding my breath.