In his first report on the California’s indebtedness, state treasurer Bill Lockyer’s graphic artist elicited a few chuckles at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a.k.a the Bay Area Toll Authority.
The Debt Affordability Report has a lovely picture of hands holding binoculars, the right lens containing the Bay Bridge’s $1 billion skyway section and the left fitted with the $1.43 billion self-anchored “signature” suspension span.
The report’s gist is summarized on the treasurer’s website:
Policymakers should adopt a new, long-range planning view of infrastructure investment and debt affordability, and fix a budget deficit that could grow to $14.6 billion by 2027-28.
Using the Bay Bridge as a symbol for infrastructure and debt is pretty intuitive, but it’s probably not the most illustrative choice for “Looking Beyond the Horizon/Investment Planning for the 21st Century.”
The irony for MTC is that the state refused to pay the bulk of the new seismically safer eastern span of the Bay Bridge as postcard-perfect as it’s now being built. Thus, the state’s debt load for that $5.6 billion project is somewhat less than MTC’s, which is collecting the tolls and footing about 60 percent of the bridge tab.
The other irony is that Lockyer has a reputation for being against bridge toll hikes.
Some even remember Lockyer walking around with a toll receipt in his wallet so he could show people the promise printed upon it that once the original bridges were paid for, the tolls would end.
That flimsy pledge was not limited to the Bay Area. I can remember New York State toll-payers along the Hudson River lamenting that their bridges came with the same promise. State and local governments, however, grew quite fond of toll revenues, especially after income tax-control measures made raising revenue elsewhere somewhat improbable.
Ok. This just in from the Treasurer’s Office, from spokesman Tom Dresslar, who, for his impeccable timing, gets the last word:
He’s not a supporter of bridge toll hikes. The report talks about tolls as one potential way to pay for highway construction financed with revenue bonds. We put the Bay Bridge on the cover because it looked nice and helped create the image of looking forward. Looking forward, and planning forward, when it comes to infrastructure investment, is the report’s major theme.
He still has the toll receipt.