Informing people about the upcoming vote on a transportation tax – without urging them to vote “yes” or “no” – is the subject of a special Thursday gathering for elected officeholders and other public officials throughout Stanislaus County.
Walking that tightrope – educating, without advocating – is a tricky requirement of California law, and those who put Measure L on the Nov. 8 ballot say they want to make sure government people follow it.
“The purpose is so everyone understands what they can and cannot do from now till November,” said Kendall Flint, a consultant advising the county, its nine cities and their transportation agency, the Stanislaus Council of Governments.
The rules, for instance, allow a City Council member or county supervisor to throw a fundraiser and stump for Measure L as an individual. But he or she can’t use city or county staff members to organize an event, or his or her agency’s resources to publicize it.
$38 million Yearly proceeds, if Measure L passes in November
Another example: An agency can tell people what to expect if the half-cent sales increase passes in November, such as which streets might be rehabbed, or which intersections would get traffic signals. But they can’t advise voters on how to mark their ballots, even though everyone knows the agencies really, really hope everyone votes “yes.”
Typically, volunteers emerge to do the serious cheerleading. Measures K and S, for example, in 2006 and 2008, relied heavily on local businesspeople to wave the banner and raise campaign money.
This time, Modesto agribusinessman Paul Van Konynenburg is helping coordinate the private effort. He was co-chairman of the private side of the 2008 campaign, which barely failed to capture two-thirds of the countywide vote.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for a local fix to problems that have plagued us for a very long time,” Van Konynenburg said. Stanislaus is among the largest of the California counties, he noted, that have not embraced a higher sales tax to benefit roads, while doing so enables agencies to leverage extra state and federal money pooled from all cities and counties.
This is a fantastic opportunity for a local fix to problems that have plagued us for a very long time.
Paul Van Konynenburg, Citizens for Better Roads and Safer Streets coordinator
“We’ve lost out on millions of dollars that could be improving our local infrastructure and making streets safer,” he continued. “Our neighbors are taking local money that should rightfully go to us.”
If Measure L passes, the sales tax would go up 5 cents for something priced at $10, 50 cents for a $100 item, and so on. Proceeds would bring nearly a billion dollars over 25 years, or about $38 million a year, half for road repairs and the rest split between projects such as new highways, bike paths, remaking intersections and freeway interchanges. Thousands of projects promised by supporters can be viewed in The Modesto Bee’s interactive map, which does not take a position.
The only known opposition comes from former Modesto Councilman Bruce Frohman, who said proceeds would benefit special interests such as developers because new highways could induce growth.
Eight years ago, the private campaign collected at least $334,000 with a little more than half coming from road construction companies. Proponents never dissolved their political action committee, and the fund still held $4,773 as of June 30, the end of the latest disclosure period. Just before that date, an investment company of Modesto businessman Craig Lewis donated $5,000 to the new cause, and the fundraising drive has continued in the weeks since, Van Konynenburg said.
Lewis spearheaded the 2006 effort from the private side and has since advocated for a transportation tax.
To help spread the message, without taking sides, StanCOG so far has set aside $425,000, roughly the same amount of tax dollars as was spent in 2006 and 2008, not counting private drives. Part was used to set up a comprehensive website.
Thursday’s meeting – which is open to the public, with time reserved for people to comment on Measure L – begins at 3:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the DoubleTree Hotel, 1150 Ninth St. in downtown Modesto. Organizers of the private campaign will meet afterward.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390