Many transit systems in the US are born out of the same weird “conglomerate” government approach.
Without getting into the same legal drivel they would like to hide behind, the basic idea is as follows: municipal governments in a concentrated area reach a conclusion that mass transit is something they need to pursue together. In order do that, they need plans, operations, and administration that is centralized. But, local governments, when merely sharing a land border, have many different laws and governance between each other, how do they streamline efforts so they are not affected by a litany of differences? In comes the idea of quasi-government: Local governments sign agreements to financially support a centralized body that is not governed by them directly, and is not elected by citizens. Instead, they appoint people to the board of this organization, and their job is to formulate the organization.
Now, the idea of centralizing such an effort makes sense. It’s most efficient, makes the mission specific, and of course, unburdens their government bodies from more layers of bureaucracy.
There is a couple of serious problems with this: the main point is that this is an organization that acts like a government, by proposing and lobbying for taxes, and because they are the chosen experts in their field, it’s hard for the governments they lobby for tax funding to argue with their logic. But even beyond this simple conundrum, there’s the issue of taxpayers not being able to scrutinize those that are controlling their tax dollars, their infrastructure, and their potentially their lifestyle.
This is wrong. Our Constitution says it’s wrong (Taxation without Representation), all State’s have laws, or their own constitutions that outlaw the practice, and yet this idea of public mass transit becoming a sort-of/kind-of government agency, with no real oversight is being born around the country, because it fixes jurisdictional issues, centralizes services, and makes the project actually ‘work,’ when evaluating results.
Washington, DC, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the State of Maryland have done this with Metro. The entire Dallas Metroplex has done it with DART. San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, San Jose, and every other city in the Bay Area did it with BART.
These highly regional models work in areas where they answer highly regional problems. Congestion, a lack of land to re-work to efficiency, and layers of planning, that complicate land use.
But where sea and air ports are controlled by State agencies, somehow no one thought that public transit on a mass scale should also be a State issue.
Some would say that the highly concentrated areas of population represent a certain set of problems the rest of the State doesn’t have, and that they shouldn’t be laying the same burden down. Logically it makes sense. If the ranch land doesn’t need a train, why should pay for one?
However, what is happening with Sound Transit hits on a whole new level. They are arguing for State taxes, and city taxes, and county taxes, and on it goes. They can’t get what they want in this jurisdiction, so they find it somewhere else. Cost overruns, meh the tax payers will bank roll it. If that’s not enough, they absolutely do not take no for an answer.
Recently, it came to light that Sound Transit willingly misled the Washington State Senate, on a tax bill that authorized $15 billion to be earmarked for Sound Transit. What they didn’t discuss in the bill, and what was not clear, was that Sound Transit had not put an expiration date on the tax bill. So, when time came to close down the funding, they argued there was no expiration, and ended up collecting $54 billion.
This would literally be criminal, for any other entity to deceive government in this manner, and yet, no charges have been filed. Why is the State government being taken to task by a regional government? This would literally not happen in any other relationship, and yet, when we look at history, public transportation organizations, like Sound Transit, use language as a weapon when going after tax funding. They are their own maker, and thus, have a duty to protect themselves. If they appropriately positioned in State government, we know this wouldn’t happen, because they would have a chain of command to explain themselves, or their funding could be halted immediately.
The fact is that quasi-government doesn’t work, and that’s why our forefathers outlawed it. They faced similar groups in their day, but they were known as something else, “tax collectors.”
That’s not to say that tax collection is wrong, because it’s not. However, the tax collectors they dealt with were people empowered to extort money out of common people, keeping a percentage for themselves, and passing the rest on to the King.
This is the problem with quasi-government. No matter how it’s structured, no matter how it’s “monitored,” it will always find a way around, for it’s own version of survival.
Mass transit is a needed function in our society – it should be housed directly in State government.