STANISLAUS COUNTY -- The latest push for a Stanislaus County road tax has stalled.
Faced with pessimistic polling during a lackluster recovery, transportation leaders are putting the idea on hold and might not approach voters in the next couple of years.
"People are still trying to make ends meet," said county Supervisor Bill O'Brien. "It's hard to ask anybody to give anything."
Also, a countywide road tax might run into competition in Modesto and Turlock, whose respective voters could be asked to raise taxes for public safety and Turlock roads.
All agencies throughout the county remain desperate for more road money, and better streets help draw companies and new jobs, leaders say. They intend to keep an eye on state legislation aimed at relaxing the requirement for local tax bumps, from 66.67 percent to 55 percent.
If that happens, local leaders want to be ready with a list of projects to help convince voters.
"I'm still the guy who wants to keep plodding forward, maybe at a slower pace," said Supervisor Vito Chiesa.
Previous countywide road tax campaigns in 2006 and 2008 won majority support but failed to capture the required two-thirds approval. The latter fell short by a mere 0.25 percent out of 155,535 votes.
Recent statewide polling of 800 people in December and January by the California Alliance for Jobs suggests that voters believe they're paying enough in taxes.
Lukewarm enthusiasm for road taxes "is less about affordability and more about a lack of faith in how the money would be administered," a report says.
Leaders want to see about 60 percent support before launching a tax campaign; this poll showed 43 percent support, even if the threshold were lowered to 55 percent.
Also, voters are more likely to support higher taxes for public safety, education and libraries before road projects, the poll suggested.
Members of the Stanislaus Council of Governments' executive committee, including O'Brien and Chiesa, heard those results at a recent meeting and seem resigned to waiting for better times.
They also learned that local companies no longer consider transportation a major economic concern.
A business survey by the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance, due out soon, showed minimal worry over roads compared with other economic issues, despite ever-worsening conditions, a report says.
"The consensus was that a potential measure could not pass in today's economic times," the report says.
The 2008 Stanislaus measure might have raised $700 million in 20 years, with half going to neighborhood roads and half to future freeways in the north, central and southern parts of the county. The half-cent sales tax bump would have raised the cost of a $10 item by 5 cents, or by 50 cents for a $100 item.
StanCOG's policy board will be briefed at 6 p.m. today in the agency's third-floor chamber, 1111 I St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.stancog.org/policy-board.shtm.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.