Caltrain sales tax poll has borderline results sensitive to campaign and funding plan

On Thursday, the Caltrain board will receive the results of a poll on a sales tax for stable funding. The results were borderline and very sensitive to messaging and campaign.

The poll showed that congestion relief and increased transit capacity important to votes; in addition, voters surveyed value the idea of connecting the Downtown Extension and much better transit connections.

While positive messages increased poll results, a set of negative messages also reduced results. The negative messages that depressed results included concern about cost of living, and concern about employers paying their fair share.  

So, it seems reasonable for the expenditure plan and benefits of the measure to include affordable fares and other measures improving access to people across the income spectrum.

Regarding voter concern about a regressive sales tax – unfortunately, a sales tax is the only measure that is authorized on the ballot, because the Silicon Valley Leadership Group was proactive a couple of years ago to get it authorized.

To address voter concern about companies paying their share, are there other options that could move forward in parallel to make use of corporate funding?

Public private partnership to pay for level boarding? What other ways could employers pay their fare share, without waiting and risking service cuts and fare increases.

The lowest level of support showed in the poll was for using the money to rebate San Francisco, SamTrans, and VTA from their obligations to pay for Caltrain. Voters are clear that they want this tax to provide new value. Hopefully partners, including VTA which was the most strongly interested in using the measure to reduce its Caltrain commitments, will pay attention.

Caltrain still doesn’t have stable funding, making the service vulnerable to potential cuts and fare increases, as well as underinvesting in maintenance which reduces reliability. Stable funding would be a major benefit.

Based on the poll results, a strong campaign and attention to voter concerns are important. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.