New Caltrain tax proposal doesn’t seem legal

The law that authorizes a 1/8 cent sales tax for Caltrain, SB797, is very short and easy to read. It says that “net revenues from the tax [are] to be used by the board for operating and capital purposes of the Caltrain rail service.”

However, the new proposal advanced by Mayor Liccardo, which we expect will be brought forward today for approval in Santa Clara County and introduced at San Francisco Board of Supervisors does not do that. It gives 35% of the funds to Caltrain for up to 2 years, and makes the remainder of the funds subject to complicated conditions.

SamTrans’ lawyers have issued a letter saying their opinion is that the ballot language is not legal. In California, taxes are often opposed by a range of anti-tax groups that oppose taxes on principle. Their suits based on subtle arguments rarely succeed. But this proposal directly contradicts the authorizing law, it’s hard to see how it would hold up if challenged legally.