Myth vs. Fact

A Fact-by-Fact Analysis

There are a lot of false claims flying around about Measure I. How do you know which ones to believe? Here’s a fact-by-fact analysis with citations to help you sort through it all.

Myth: Measure I Isn’t Needed – the Current Tax Doesn’t Expire Until 2029

Fact: Passing Measure I NOW Protects SMART’s Operations – We Can’t Wait
After the Great Recession hit, SMART borrowed money against sales tax revenue to initiate the engineering and construction required to build the train tracks. To refinance that debt and take advantage of historically low interest rates, SMART needs a guaranteed funding source for the next 30 years – just the way you would need to prove steady income to a bank for a home mortgage. By renewing the ¼ cent sales tax through Measure I, SMART can save $12.2 million in annual interest costs1, providing enough revenue to fund operations along the entire rail line for the next 30 years with NO TAX INCREASE.

Myth: Measure I Increases Your Taxes

Fact: Measure I Will Not Increase Your Taxes
Measure I will not increase your taxes. In 2008, the voters of Marin and Sonoma counties passed Measure Q to fund SMART with a ¼ cent sales tax. Measure I seeks to extend that measure to fund SMART operations for the next 30 years. It does not raise the tax rate – it merely extends the current sales tax term to put SMART on solid financial footing. This would allow refinancing of existing debt to save $12.2 million annually to fund operations with NO TAX INCREASE.

MythIf Measure I Passes, We Give SMART a Blank Check with No Accountability

Fact: Measure I Has Strict Accountability Standards, Annual Audits and a Citizens’ Oversight Committee
The original SMART funding measure required a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to account for every penny of public money spent by SMART. This independent group of local citizens meets regularly, have given SMART consistently clean audits2 and their reports are available on SMART’s website3. SMART’s budgets are set by SMART’s Board of Directors in public meetings that are open to the public and can be watched online. All budgets and spending are regularly audited to make sure they are accurate. Measure I includes the same mandatory oversight provisions that Measure Q required in 20084.

Myth: SMART Ridership Numbers Are Down

Fact: SMART Ridership Is Up
SMART’s weekday ridership is steadily growing. The new schedule, which went into effect on January 1, gives commuters a train every half hour and the opening of the Larkspur station connecting to Golden Gate Ferry has produced a 26% increase in ridership in January 2020 over the numbers for January 2019. Numbers for the first half of February 2020 were even more promising, up 30% for weekday ridership and 86% for weekend ridership over February 20195.

Myth: SMART Doesn’t Take Cars Off Highway 101

Fact: SMART Has Carried Over 1.7 Million Passengers Since Starting, Taking Thousands of Cars Off 101 Every Single Day
Just because traffic is intolerable on Highway 101 doesn’t mean that SMART isn’t taking cars off the road. If SMART stopped running, thousands of more car trips would be added to the traffic on 101 every day – making it even worse. Looking forward, it will be virtually impossible towiden Highway 101 any more, but we can add cars to the SMART tracks to offer North Bay residents an alternative to sitting in traffic.

MythSMART Is Mismanaged, Starting with its General Manager

Fact: SMART Strategically Secured $323 Million in Regional, State and Federal Grants
In its first few years, SMART took a lot of heat for mismanagement. When the SMART Board hired Farhad Mansourian in 2011, he corrected course and got SMART up and running despite engineering, structural and financial challenges. He was the right person at the right time to start up a train from scratch. Despite the Great Recession crippling the sales tax income from Measure Q, Mansourian secured $323 million in regional, state and federal grants to fund SMART’s start-up and operations costs6. A Citizens’ Oversight Committee and regular audits have ensured SMART has the financial oversight the public demanded.

MythSMART Isn’t a Green Alternative to Highway 101

Fact: Riding SMART Produces 33% Less Emissions than Driving
Cars produce 60% of our greenhouse gas emissions. SMART riders are protecting our planet from climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 33% compared to completing the same trip in a car. If SMART’s 1.72 million riders in the last 2.5 years had driven their cars to their destination, they would have emitted 8.1 million more pounds of CO2 into the environment than SMART’s trains7.

MythIf We Vote No on Measure I, There Is No Harm to SMART

Fact: If Measure I Doesn’t Pass, SMART Will Need to Make Service Cuts
If Measure I doesn’t pass, SMART will not have a guaranteed revenue stream for the next 30 years to refinance its existing debt – an action that would produce $12.2 million in savings per year. Without Measure I and refinancing, SMART would have a $9 million annual deficit and would need to make service cuts to reduce costs. That means fewer trains and less frequency during commute hours, making SMART more crowded and less reliable and threatening the future existence of the train8.

MythSMART Can Fund Operations Without a Sales Tax

Fact: SMART Requires an Ongoing Funding Source – just like Every Other Public Transit System in the World
For SMART, that is only 25 cents for every $100 spent in Marin and Sonoma counties. There are literally no public transit agencies in the Western World that fund their operations solely through ridership fares. SMART isn’t an exception to that rule. By passing Measure I, however, SMART will be able to refinance existing debt and save $12.2 million a year that can be used to fund operations of the entire line for the next 30 years. If Measure I fails, SMART will not be able to refinance and immediate service cuts will be required.

Citations:
1. https://tinyurl.com/SMART2019Plan
2. https://tinyurl.com/SMARTAudits
3. https://www.sonomamarintrain.org/financial-documents
4. https://tinyurl.com/SMARTOversight
5. http://sonomamarintrain.org/RidershipReports
6. https://tinyurl.com/SMARTFundingGrants
7. https://www.sonomamarintrain.org/node/366
8. https://tinyurl.com/SMARTCuts