Current and former San Diego Association of Governments board members said staff should have specifically flagged for the board that the agency had drastically cut down the amount of money it expected to raise from a 2004 tax increase months before the board decided to put it a measure on the ballot that predicted a much higher total.
The San Diego Association of Governments has twice misled voters about how much money the agency could raise through tax increases, which raises a simple question: Is it legal? Pretty much.
SANDAG knew a year before the 2004 election that TransNet wouldn’t collect $14 billion, but it didn’t tell voters. This is now the third instance in which SANDAG either knowingly overstated how much money it could collect to pay for transportation projects, or understated how much projects would cost to complete.
Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas backed SANDAG’s Measure A, successfully lobbied for a tax increase in Chula Vista to fund infrastructure upgrades and boosts housing developments in the South Bay and beyond. But both she and Chula Vista still struggle to get a seat at the table when it comes to SANDAG and the projects it oversees.
SANDAG has structured its investigation into itself in a way that could leave issues uninvestigated.
For more than a year, SANDAG did not disclose an $8.4 billion cost increase facing the projects included in TransNet, its tax-funded transportation infrastructure program. Together with a forecasting error the agency also failed to disclose, the problems mean TransNet is $17.5 billion short.
The investigation will attempt to determine who in the agency knew its forecasts were wildly overestimating how much revenue an existing sales tax, and another proposed one, would generate for regional transportation projects – and when they knew it.
SANDAG told voters that Transnet, a sales tax hike passed in 2004, would bring in $14 billion. The agency’s new forecast, which fixes a fatal flaw, shows it’s on track to bring in only $9 billion. Measure A, if it had passed in November, would have brought in $14 billion, not the $18 billion sold to voters.
Seven board members say they weren’t told SANDAG’s Measure A sales tax estimates were wrong – an error that led to voters being sold a false promise – and are calling for an independent review.
The saga involving the San Diego Association of Governments can get convoluted pretty quickly. First, there’s the fact that SANDAG is not too familiar to many people. Then there’s the fact that the scandal centers on some complex stuff, namely economic forecasts and what goes into them. The fundamental issue at hand, though, is not complex: A powerful government agency knowingly misled the public. And that’s worth understanding.