Sales tax for transportation will go before Stanislaus County voters in 2016

gstapley@modbee.comMay 21, 2014 

Voters throughout Stanislaus County will decide in November 2016 whether to raise the sales tax for transportation projects, leaders informally agreed Wednesday.

Terms of the measure – how much money, which projects and how long the surtax would last – have yet to be decided. But the vote’s success largely will depend on people’s mood toward whatever is promised, a consultant told Stanislaus Council of Governments members.

“I think this is the single most important thing for our long-term viability,” county Supervisor Vito Chiesa said.

Supporters say a better road system would boost commerce through better links to Sacramento and the Bay Area. Critics say taxpayers have enough burdens and can’t trust government.

StanCOG’s policy board considered for several months whether the time was right to approach voters before backing away in March, after polling results suggested lukewarm support.

Previous ballot measures in 2006 and 2008 won majority support, but not enough to meet the two-thirds threshold for transportation taxes, or 66.67 percent.

Since then, state lawmakers discussed lowering the mark to 55 percent. They ultimately dropped the idea, but some in Sacramento have talked lately about a 60 percent threshold and that option could go before voters throughout California, said consultant Kendall Flint of Flint Strategies.

The poll of 601 voters earlier this year indicated about 64 percent support for a 2014 vote, and more favoring a 2016 vote. That would coincide with a presidential election when more Democrats and young people, who tend to support such tax hikes, are likely to head to voting booths.

Turlock leaders will ask that city’s voters for a transportation tax restricted to Turlock, but it would end if voters throughout the county approve the regional tax.

Before abandoning the push for a fall vote two months ago, leaders had said increasing sales tax by a half percent would raise $970 million over 25 years. Of that, 47 percent would have been for road repairs and other local projects, new expressways would have gotten 47 percent, and 6 percent would have boosted bicycle and train projects and helped senior and disabled riders.

The 2016 measure must be crafted to draw ardent support from all corners of the county, Flint said, based on specific projects with broad popular appeal.

“In my experience with sales tax, it’s all about the projects,” she said.

Wednesday’s discussion took place in a workshop of StanCOG policy board members, who did not take a formal vote. When asked by Flint, none voiced opposition to trying again for a transportation tax.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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