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Former Modesto leader opposes transportation tax

Tully Road near Roseburg Avenue in Modesto, Calif., shows repaired cracks, as seen Friday afternoon, July 22, 2016. If passed in November, proceeds from a road tax would help fix and improve streets throughout Stanislaus County.
Tully Road near Roseburg Avenue in Modesto, Calif., shows repaired cracks, as seen Friday afternoon, July 22, 2016. If passed in November, proceeds from a road tax would help fix and improve streets throughout Stanislaus County. jlee@modbee.com

The transportation tax has enemies, after all.

Or an enemy, as in one: Former Modesto Councilman Bruce Frohman, who submitted a ballot argument against Measure L when perhaps the most likely opponent, the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, took a pass.

The Modesto Bee is unveiling an interactive map allowing people to easily see what roads in their city or neighborhood might be improved if voters throughout Stanislaus County embrace a half-cent sales tax increase in November. The map is provided as a public service and does not advocate for or against Measure L.

If two-thirds of voters say “yes” on Nov. 8, the 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.

Similar drives failed in 2006 and 2008, the last by a whisker. Supporters hope the third time’s a charm.

Every penny raised by Measure L stays in Stanislaus County to improve local transportation. The state can’t touch it.

Ballot argument in favor of Measure L

“Measure L” is a nice lead-in to “local roads first,” supporters’ tag line, said county Supervisor Vito Chiesa, although that was just a happy coincidence; by law, measures are assigned letter designations by the order they’re submitted, and the transportation tax came in just after a Waterford school bond referendum, Measure K, and before a community facilities district tax in Newman to be known as Measure M.

“It’s perfect because local roads polled (highest) by a long shot,” Chiesa said, referring to residents’ priorities in a recent survey.

If voters pass Measure L, the sales tax would go up 5 cents for something priced at $10, 50 cents for a $100 item, and so on.

Frohman, who served on the City Council from 1999 to 2003, said he would have remained silent if proponents had sought a smaller tax increase. A half-cent hike, he said, “is just too much.”

Why should citizens pay even higher taxes?

Bruce Frohman, rebuttal to ballot argument

When the local taxpayers association failed to submit a formal ballot argument by Monday’s deadline, Frohman went into action. “I decided somebody needs to at least present an opposing view to make them earn a victory,” he said. “If it merits passage, voters will pass it. It’s up to the people to decide.”

In promotional material, savvy consultants are appealing to people’s emotional ties to increased safety and desire to help seniors and the disabled, Frohman said. But he suspects that developers would get a windfall because tax proceeds could build new highways, inducing growth.

“Don’t be manipulated into making the wrong choice,” Frohman says in his argument. “If you ignore my warning and approve this, you will pay for 20 (sic) years. Once it passes, you can’t stop it.”

I resent being asked to pay one-half percent extra on every purchase in the next 20 years to fund a welfare program for urban and residential developers.

Bruce Frohman, argument against Measure L

Pro-L ballot statements were signed by the likes of Sheriff Adam Christianson, county schools Superintendent Tom Changnon, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and the Gallo Center for the Arts’ Lynn Dickerson. Conservative county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who leads the local Republican Party, also signed on, as did Bill Jackson, a rancher in Oakdale, where stronger opposition than elsewhere in 2008 doomed that year’s measure.

“The lone opponent to Measure L is simply misinformed,” reads supporters’ rebuttal to Frohman, saying regular people – not developers or bureaucrats – would benefit.

Passage would create a citizens oversight committee and require annual audits, and state leaders could never raid the fund, supporters say. The last point is a sore one in Modesto and Sonora, where plans for new courthouses are in limbo partly because state leaders took $1.8 billion from a construction fund and did not restore it.

Farmers, ranchers, business leaders and working families support Measure L because our local economy depends on a strong transportation infrastructure to move our goods.

Rebuttal to Frohman, by Measure L proponents

Measure L supporters say it would propel Stanislaus County and its nine cities into “self-help status,” enabling them to leverage millions more in state and federal dollars that can’t go to agencies unable to put up “match” money.

Proponents’ website features oodles of information, including tables of road projects promised in each city and unincorporated areas.

The Bee synthesized them into one comprehensive map, allowing viewers to access information on thousands of projects promised throughout the county, often with individual start dates and project costs. Exceptions are Modesto and Oakdale, which provided their own maps reached through links on The Bee’s map; Modesto’s map shows what might happen in just the first five years of the 25-year tax.

“When you’re communicating with the public, you try to use as many (media) as possible,” said Patterson Mayor Luis Molina, a believer in reaching out through social media. “Some people pick up a newspaper, some look at their phone, some go to the library. It’s a great idea to provide a map people can click on and find out what’s going on.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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