by Jan Baughman
(Swans - March 10, 2008) In a January 28, 2008, article I criticized the upcoming $1 toll increase (to $6) for crossing the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, which is being proposed to counter the Transit District's $91 million budget shortfall, as it is yet another tax on the backs of the poor and the middle class to repair the city's -- and the country's -- crumbling infrastructure. What I learned next was a lesson in how we the People are being shut out of the political process as our finances are being chipped away.
As stated on the bridge Web site, "A final decision on the proposed toll increase will not be made until after receiving public input at three scheduled public open houses (February 28, March 13 and March 19) and following the formal Public Hearing on June 11, 2008. We encourage you to attend one of these meetings." [emphasis added] I added the emphasis because I decided to attend one such meeting, having never attended a public hearing and wanting to voice my objection, which I also did on their Web site -- I'll come back to that matter later.
I arrived at the Fort Mason Conference Center, Landmark Building A, promptly at 5:30 on February 28 in order to get a seat. What I encountered was not a "meeting," but a conference room lined with poster boards explaining the need for the toll increase; approximately twelve suited Transit District employees ready and willing to answer questions; and perhaps three other presumed citizens. In one corner were a couple of laptops that citizens could use to submit comments on the Golden Gate Bridge Web site. All that was missing was wine, cheese, and a string quartet. As I walked through the presentation I was approached at different times by three individuals, to whom I expressed repeatedly my opposition to the toll increase. Each listened politely and offered no counterpoint, let alone any recognition of my concern beyond one person's comment, "it's not just San Francisco's infrastructure that is in disrepair; it's the same across the whole country." I countered that we need a broad solution to the country's failing infrastructure -- for example, decreasing war spending, and increasing taxes on the corporations that are enjoying large profits at the expense of the average citizen -- not nickel and diming the citizens to compensate for budget shortfalls. "Thank you for coming, and feel free to submit a comment if you like," they all smiled.
Two of the justifications for the toll increase are that "There has been no toll increase since 2002. During that same period, the Consumer Price Index increased 15.86%, or an average of 2.64% per year," and that inflation has reduced the value of the toll since then. Never mind that "The peak income year for the bottom 90 percent of Americans was way back in 1973 -- when the average income per taxpayer (adjusted for inflation) was $33,001. That is nearly $4,000 higher than the average in 2005," as written by Bob Herbert of the New York Times and quoted by Gilles d'Aymery in an excellent exposé of the income inequality scandal.
I left after fifteen minutes, disgusted and unsatisfied. That night the local news covered the non-meeting from far outside the conference room, not exposing it for the non-event it was, and indicating that the increase was essentially a "done deal."
Back to the public comment. The week of the public non-meeting, I submitted a message on the Golden Gate Bridge Web site opposing the toll increase. Returning to the site on March 7, I learned that,
Due to a technical glitch, online comments submitted between February 19 and February 29 regarding the proposed Golden Gate Bridge toll increase did not get captured into the database correctly. If you submitted a comment during that period, we ask that you take a few moments and resubmit your comments at http://goldengate.org/feedback/tollcontactform.php. If you are not certain when you submitted your comment, please do so again and we will verify that your comment is not duplicated. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.
Inconvenience, coincidence, or did the public comments fall into the political black hole that stores Dick Cheney's e-mail messages?
Last weekend, the New York Times published editorials from the former presidential candidates on the issues they'd like to see in the campaign ("What I'd Be Talking About if I Were Still Running"). It was a weak collection at best, and only 250 to 350 words from each, particularly considering that they had nothing to lose (but their establishment support, of course...). However, Christopher Dodd acknowledged that "With every bursting pipe, potholed road and derailed train, the conclusion became inescapable: America's backbone is decaying."
Trickle-up economics is working beautifully. Individuals are going bankrupt; schools are going bankrupt; districts are going bankrupt; towns are going bankrupt; and the wealthy are getting obscenely wealthier. What is frightening to consider is that with the rigged political process and the state of disrepair in a city that is relatively progressive and where the median home price is $744,500, one can only imagine what is happening throughout the country in areas with fewer jobs, less wealth, and less political participation. And we are spending $10 billion per month on the Iraq War. To put it in perspective, at $14 million per hour, just six and a half hours of war funding would make up the Golden Gate Bridge budget shortfall... Something to ponder during the increasingly expensive few minutes it takes to cross that bridge, and the many other costly bridges that lie ahead and are falling apart.
"Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District Proposed Toll Increase"
"What I'd Be Talking About if I Were Still Running," The New York Times, March 2, 2008
"As the Nation Crumbles," by Christopher J. Dodd, The New York Times, March 2, 2008
For a solid collection of what the candidates should be talking about, see Ralph Nader's platform at http://www.votenader.org.
"California Association of Realtors," February 25, 2008, C.A.R. reports sales decrease 29.8 percent, median home price falls 21.9 percent
"How much does Iraq war cost per month, week, day, hour, minute, second?," Iraq Insider