Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday Must Read: Top State Democrats Threaten Tax Revolution; AC Transit Raises Fares — Again

By Robert Gammon
Thu, May 12, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. File this one under “why haven’t we done this already?” Democratic state senate leader Darrell Steinberg is threatening to pass a bill that would allow counties and school districts to raise numerous taxes on their own, with approval of local voters — without needing the state’s okay. Steinberg says he’ll move forward with his bill if Republicans continue to block the governor’s tax measures. The LA Times reports that the bill, which passed out of committee last week, would let counties and school districts ask local voters to raise income taxes, increase the vehicle license fee, and boost levies on liquor, tobacco, and soft drinks. They can even enact their own oil extraction fees. And get this — Steinberg’s bill only requires a majority vote of the Legislature, meaning it can pass without Republican support. No wonder business groups are suddenly pressuring lawmakers to strike a budget deal.

2. In what may be another sign that AC Transit is in a death spiral, the agency’s board approved another fare hike yesterday, raising it to $2.10, the CoCo Times reports. But the fare increase won’t be enough to solve AC Transit’s budget woes, so the agency also is planning to enact more service cuts in the next twelve to eighteen months. Maybe Steinberg should amend his bill to allow the same for transit agencies as it does for counties and school districts. And, oh, yeah, add cities to the mix, too.

3. File this one under “WTF?” A new report lists San Jose, and its endless sea of freeways and cars, as the second most mass transit friendly metro area in the nation, the Chron and Merc report. Apparently, the authors of the Brookings Institution study ranked San Jose second nationwide because they liked the way its mass transit system looks and works and ignored the fact the no one actually rides it. Our favorite reaction to the report comes from a transit critic in San Jose: “Ranks second? How many did they rank — two?”

4. Bulletin: We’re getting old. Especially here in the Bay Area. In Alameda County, the average age went from 34.5 in 2000 to 36.6 in 2010, and in Contra Costa, it went from 36.4 to 38.5, the CoCo Times reports, citing new Census data. The oldest county in the Bay Area is — no surprise — Marin, where the average age is now 44.5, up from 41.3 ten years ago.

5. Bulletin II: We’re also getting more ethnically diverse. Especially in the East Bay. The CoCo Times reports that while the percentage of white and black residents dropped in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the past decade, the percentage of Indian Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, and Filipino Americans jumped considerably.

6. Question of the Day: Who’s more corrupt — San Francisco or Contra Costa County cops? According to the latest Chron report, SFPD may have taken the slight edge in yet another case of a cop getting caught on video doing something illegal. In this case, the cop in question apparently stole a suspect’s duffle bag, which contained an iPod, a bottle of Tequila, two pounds of coffee, and caps and T-Shirts he got for Christmas. We’re guessing the coffee was from Blue Bottle.

7. In more confusing economic news, the CoCo Times reports that foreclosure activity in the Bay Area dropped substantially last month. The report comes on the heels of another one that showed that the number of homes underwater is rising rapidly. So what gives? Apparently, mortgage lenders have decided to move homes into foreclosure at a slower pace even though lots more of us are underwater. Which, when you think about it, is good news.

8. And finally, the Chron reports that OpenTable’s stock may be wildly overvalued even though the restaurant reservation service is posting impressive profits. OpenTable, as we noted earlier this year in a cover story, is facing a growing backlash, and analysts say the company’s $2.27 billion stock valuation is much too high.

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