Some ticked-off seniors are mobilizing to reverse a preliminary decision carving them and disabled people out of the latest road tax proposal.
A coalition of seniors' organizations is circulating fliers and lobbying officials in protest of a new formula for distributing proceeds of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase. The unnamed transportation measure is expected to go before voters throughout Stanislaus County in November.
An unsuccessful 2006 version, Measure K, would have earmarked 2½ percent, or about $25 million over 30 years, for senior and disabled transit. The current 20-year proposal shifts priorities in hopes of drawing more support -- leaving those two groups at the curb.
Decision-makers "are used to us not speaking up," said 72-year-old Jenny Kenoyer. "We've reached the point where we've realized we have to speak up. They're going to see us."
That will happen Tuesday, several seniors said, when they march into a meeting of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, a transportation agency driving the road tax proposal. It's not on the agenda, though audience members are allowed to speak during an open-comment "public participation" segment at the beginning of the meeting.
StanCOG's Vince Harris said he plans to update policy board members on the status of the road tax during his executive director's report at the end of the meeting.
The seniors' coalition includes the Stanislaus County Commission on Aging, the California Senior Legislature, AARP and Golden Agers for Progress. Kenoyer represents the latter, a recently formed Catholic Charities affiliate urging seniors to become more vocal in public dialogue.
"We lived through the Great Depression, so we're thankful for whatever we got," Kenoyer said. "We didn't question anything and we didn't complain because we were taught not to. That day's over."
A half-dozen seniors Thursday stressed that their groups wholeheartedly support the notion of filling potholes, boosting the local economy and freeing traffic by paying an extra nickel for every $10 in purchases. Measure K, which needed two-thirds approval to pass in 2006, would not have captured nearly 58 percent without their groups' help, they said.
"We know we need this measure," said Mickey Peabody, chairwoman of the Commission on Aging, adding that no one has suggested picketing or other tactics aimed at killing the tax proposal. "But if the senior language is not in, we don't think we can get seniors to support it."
The group least likely to drive
Studies show that seniors are society's most consistent voters.
Others suggest that the United States' 2000 population of 35 million people 65 and older is expected to double by 2030. That age group in Stanislaus County, at 51,000, is swelling at a similar rate.
And the fastest-growing group of seniors are 85 and older -- those least likely to drive. They rely on a handful of public and private transportation programs, some of which are unreliable and less than sensitive to the needs of slower, vulnerable riders, some seniors say.
"Seven months into our fiscal year, we've spent all the money we've been given" for Catholic Charities' Senior Assisted Transportation, said Executive Director Rich Fowler, 64. "We're not touching the need. So, we're at the table because we see the need. To think this (tax increase) would leave seniors out is surprising and shocking."
Jill Klajic's Arcadia Home Health Care in Modesto charges $18 an hour and 47 cents per mile to transport seniors, "and we turn people down all the time because they can't afford it," she said.
Seniors are happier, healthier and live longer if they are not isolated, Peabody said. Nearly one-third of seniors live alone, and 54 percent stay home on a given day compared with 9 percent of younger drivers, according to other studies.
Peabody and the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County separately challenged the elimination of senior and disabled transit when StanCOG policy board members embraced the road tax idea last month. Officials had cobbled together the support of the county and its nine cities with a new formula giving a greater share of tax proceeds to neighborhood roads as opposed to highway interchanges and other regional projects.
The new proposal reserves half the money for three major east-west corridors, one each in the northern, center and southern parts of Stanislaus County.
For the other half, each city and the county continue working on individual wish lists. Officials told Peabody the money for seniors and the disabled could come from that pot.
But Peabody said that's not likely. "Without a coordinated effort," she said, "it will never happen."
Coalition members said they hope officials will reinsert a slice earmarked for seniors and disabled transit before the ballot language is made final this summer.
The Stanislaus Council of Governments will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Alliance Free Enterprise Center, 1020 10th St., Suite 102, Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.