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Modesto council supports road tax proposal

The Modesto City Council on Tuesday got on board with a plan to ask voters in November for a half-cent sales tax for road improvements.

The council's 5-1 vote doesn't put the measure on the ballot, but it lends the city's support to countywide talks about the tax.

It's up to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to put the plan before voters, a decision likely to take place in the summer.

Several council members expressed concerns about the proposal, saying voters would reject it if they couldn't see a clear benefit. County voters turned down a similar plan in November 2006.

"I know it's needed," said Councilman Will O'Bryant, who voted against the proposal because he said residents are taxed enough. "I can give you 500 reasons why we need it. I'm just having a hard time getting past this."

The previous pitch for a countywide road tax went down when critics poked holes in the proposal. The measure's supporters generally didn't respond strongly to rebut the charges.

Councilwoman Janice Keating said a new proposal would meet the same result if private businesses and commu- nity groups don't get behind it.

"If there is no one to run the campaign from the private sector, then there is no campaign," she said.

Others on the council said it was critical for the county to pass a road tax because the state favors so-called "self-help" jurisdictions when it doles out road money.

"We're leaving millions and millions of dollars on the table because we can't get across first base," Mayor Jim Ridenour said.

The proposal won over one skeptic, newly elected Councilman Dave Lopez. He liked that the new plan expires after 20 years instead of 30.

"There is no money out there to fix those roads and they do need to be fixed," he said.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments is refining the proposal and seeking endorsements from other city councils. Ceres and Oakdale have voted to support it.

The plan would raise $700 million for road repairs over 20 years, directing half to cities and half to regional projects.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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