Half of proceeds from a transportation tax would patch potholes and fix neighborhood streets, most leaders throughout Stanislaus County indicated Wednesday while scheduling a final vote Jan. 20.
Several speakers and one elected leader – Modesto City Councilman Tony Madrigal – urged a transportation panel to set aside enough money to bring Bay Area trains to Modesto, Turlock and Merced. Other members of the Stanislaus Council of Governments said the rail idea is nice, but reducing cash earmarked for local street repair could doom a countywide vote on a transportation tax, expected in November.
“Everyone agrees that ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) is something we’d love to have, but it’s just not the right time,” said Terry Withrow, a county supervisor. “We’ve got to live in Realworldville to make this happen.”
When you’re asking people to tax themselves, you’d surely better have an ear to the ground.
Vito Chiesa, supervisor, Stanislaus County
Previous attempts at a transportation tax failed in 2006 and 2008, the last by a whisker. Public polling, including an October survey, consistently shows more support for local street repair than anything else, and leaders hope their most recent spending plan will do the trick next year.
Recently revealed elements include:
▪ Raising the sales tax by a half percent for 25 years. That means an added 5 cents for an item priced at $10, an extra 50 cents for a $100 item, and so on.
▪ In its lifetime, the tax could raise about $975 million. A spending plan option favored by most leaders Wednesday showed a total of $977 million.
▪ Seen another way, the tax might bring $39 million a year.
▪ Half the amount raised would go to fix neighborhood streets, with another 10 percent for traffic signals and other intersection upgrades, and another 5 percent for bicycle lanes and pedestrian projects. That’s a total of 65 percent under local control, meaning city leaders, or county leaders for those who don’t live in cities. Tax increases pitched in 2006 and 2008 gave control of only 34 percent and 50 percent, respectively, to local leaders.
$350 million Designated for local street repair in 2006 and 2008 transportation tax measures
$488 million Designated for local street repair in draft 2016 plan
▪ Of the remaining funds, most – 28 percent of the total – would be spent on regional projects, or primarily building east-west highways in the north, center and southern parts of the county. Some of those priorities are determined in deals among neighboring cities – Modesto and Ceres, for example.
▪ The other 7 percent would be used by StanCOG, made up of leaders of the county and its nine cities, with the following breakdown: 30 percent for seniors and the disabled, 30 percent for people in isolated communities, 20 percent for buses and 20 percent for rail.
12 percent of tax proceeds needed to bring ACE trains to Modesto and Turlock
1.4 percent designated for rail in draft 2016 plan
The last point means 1.4 percent of the total would be set aside for trains. ACE would have needed at least 12 percent to extend a line from Lathrop to Modesto and Turlock; construction actually would be much more expensive, but 12 percent might help attract state and federal money, while 1.4 percent provides no hope.
“ACE is the place for better quality of life in the Valley,” said Eileen Wyatt Stokman of Ceres, borrowing a hardware store’s advertising slogan. “Hop on board and check it out.”
I just don’t think people understand the nexus between ACE and solving some of these (congestion, jobs, economic growth) problems.
Dave Gianelli, Modesto Chamber of Commerce
Scott Calkins, who lives west of Modesto, said true leadership requires looking beyond polls. John Mataka, president of the Grayson Neighborhood Council, warned that “alienating any portion of the community (by eliminating ACE support) could spell disaster for the measure.”
Dave Gianelli and Renee Ledbetter, respectively representing the Modesto and Ceres chambers of commerce, said train depots in their downtowns would help boost the economy. “We need to make sure we invest in (ACE) now or we’ll keep piling up on the Altamont (Pass), fixing potholes and chasing our tails,” Ledbetter said.
County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who is chairman of StanCOG’s policy board, said, “Trying to appease everyone is nearly impossible. I feel the heat from all sides.”
He noted that a Modesto bus service takes commuters from a Vintage Faire Mall park-and-ride lot to an ACE station in Lathrop. The small portion of tax proceeds set aside for ACE could be used to improve such shuttle services, Chiesa said. He asked the board to boost the “other” pot including ACE money from 5 percent to 7 percent, raising rail funds from $384,000 to about $530,000 a year.
“(This) option needs to be viewed not as anti-ACE but a pro-fixing-(roads)-first formula,” said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
Twelve percent of nothing is nothing. My accounting background tells me if it doesn’t pass, we end up with nothing.
Terry Withrow, supervisor, Stanislaus County
County Supervisor Bill O’Brien said, “I agree that the timing might not be right” for ACE. Perhaps money set aside for rail could help pay for a plan, he said, to leverage state grant money piling up for agencies reducing carbon emissions; trains reduce air pollution by providing an alternative to cars.
“If we tweak (the spending proposal) here and there, we could come up with a plan that makes us all happy but one that doesn’t pass” at the ballot, Modesto Councilman Bill Zoslocki said. If voters approve the measure, perhaps leaders could make dedicated ACE funding part of a tax renewal several years later, he and others said.
Madrigal, saying, “Maybe hearts and minds will change between now and January,” insisted that staff prepare another option dedicating 12 percent of tax proceeds to ACE – enough for a rail extension. But no one else on the policy board appeared to support that idea.
If we build it, they will ride it.
Tony Madrigal, Modesto City Council, on ACE train extension
Although a final vote will wait until Jan. 20, the board majority seemed to like the idea of splitting local shares of tax proceeds among agencies based on amounts of sales tax generated in each, rather than based on population or road miles in each agency.
That’s a good deal for Turlock, for example, which holds 13 percent of the county’s population and 8 percent of its roads but pulls down nearly 15 percent of its sales tax. Modesto, with 23 percent of the county’s population, has 39 percent of its roads and generates 38.4 percent of its sales tax.
Small cities with few stores – Hughson, Newman and Waterford, each generating less than 1 percent of countywide sales tax – would get 1.25 percent according to a deal shaving some from Modesto, Turlock and county government.
ACE did not poll very well. In fact, it polled pretty poorly.
Kendall Flint, consultant, Regional Government Services
Lastly, the board appears to back the idea of “front loading” for local streets. That means using 80 percent of tax proceeds in the first five years on local street repairs, so people can more quickly see what they’re getting for their money. Because 50 percent of proceeds are to be used on that priority over the 25-year life of the tax, less would go to local streets after the first five years.
A final vote on the spending plan is scheduled at 6 p.m. Jan. 20 in the third-floor StanCOG boardroom, 1111 I St., Modesto. A future version of the plan detailing benefits for each city and corner of the county is expected to run 20 to 40 pages. If approved, leaders of all cities and the county would be asked to publicly endorse it in ensuing weeks.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390