Ken Carlson

Will Stanislaus Taxpayers Association oppose the countywide road tax?

The Stanislaus Taxpayers Association has not taken a stance on the countywide transportation tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. Here, traffic is backed up along Santa Fe Avenue in Ceres in October 2015 as Stanislaus County prepared to work on Hatch Road and Santa Fe Avenue to keep traffic moving in the busy corridor.
The Stanislaus Taxpayers Association has not taken a stance on the countywide transportation tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. Here, traffic is backed up along Santa Fe Avenue in Ceres in October 2015 as Stanislaus County prepared to work on Hatch Road and Santa Fe Avenue to keep traffic moving in the busy corridor. Modesto Bee file

The Stanislaus Taxpayers Association has not taken a stance on the countywide transportation tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

For Measure L to pass, the “no” votes can’t be a decimal above 33 percent. So the opinion of the taxpayers association carries some weight, one reason that proponents have tried to get them on board with the half-percent sales tax, said Eric Reimer, the association’s treasurer.

If it receives two-thirds approval, Measure L is expected to generate $960 million over 25 years, with half the money going to local street and road improvements. Leaders of the taxpayers association, which has historic ties to tax reformer Howard Jarvis, understand the county and its nine cities need the cash to repave crumbling roads.

Reimer said he is more skeptical about Measure L devoting $269 million, or almost 30 percent of the total, to regional traffic projects such as a new Highway 132/Maze Boulevard alignment and the North County expressway.

In an Aug. 29 records request, Reimer asked the Stanislaus Council of Governments for information on the expenditures required to build the Highway 132 project and North County expressway.

Reimer said he wanted to know how much cash was needed to complete the projects and when the money was needed. He also asked StanCOG for a bond sale schedule.

“I’m looking to see if StanCOG has done the business preparation,” Reimer said. Presumably, he’s concerned about burning taxpayers’ money on long-range projects that have no definitive timeline.

An attorney representing StanCOG, from the Neumiller & Beardslee law firm of Stockton, turned over some records to Reimer on Tuesday, possibly averting a public flap over his request. Reimer said the records he received did not answer his questions.

“I asked for information about the future,” Reimer said. “They provided a bit of information about the past.”

Attorney Rod Attebery said he talked with Reimer two weeks ago, explaining that StanCOG didn’t have the “cash flow timeline” that he requested. StanCOG has not yet decided how the project funding will work for Highway 132 and the North County expressway. It’s premature to know if bonds will be sold, the attorney added.

Attebery said StanCOG provided Reimer with the financial information it has for the two projects. He stressed the records were provided within the time frame required in the Public Records Act. He initially replied to Reimer within a 10-day period specified in the law, the attorney said.

An environmental review is being done on the 132 project, which would realign the highway parallel with Kansas Avenue, east of Dakota Avenue, and connect it with the Needham Street overcrossing in Modesto. A current schedule shows an initial phase of construction starting in 2018.

Reimer said he does not see the taxpayers association endorsing the road tax and, at best, would take a neutral position. Association president Dave Thomas said the group will vote, possibly Friday, on taking a position. The association had been prepared to “sit this one out,” but Measure L proponents asked the group for an endorsement, the president said.

Thomas said local residents have enough information on the crying need for road repairs and improvements and can decide on whether to tax themselves.

“Our streets are so bad – they need help,” Thomas said Thursday. “In my mind, I am tending toward a decision (on Measure L), but today is not the time for us to say anything.”

Vito Chiesa, a county supervisor and StanCOG’s chairman, said he hopes voters will digest the information on Measure L, available at www.stanislaus-localroadsfirst.com.

Voters will need to search to the end of a crowded ballot to find the road tax, Chiesa noted. Two previous transportation taxes fell short in Stanislaus County, including a 2008 measure that failed by a handful of votes.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321

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