California voters decide on several ballot questions to fund transportation

| 11/8/2006

While voters in California overwhelmingly approved a second term for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor's suite, they also approved two initiatives that affect transportation funding throughout the state. Several counties in the state also decided on transportation-related efforts.

The statewide ballot proposal to authorize further protections to ensure state fuel taxes are spent on road and other transportation projects was ahead with a whopping 77 percent in support and 22 percent of voters opposed.

In 2002, California voters approved Proposition 42 requiring fuel pump sales tax revenues to be used solely for transportation. However, that law allows the governor and state lawmakers to divert the money in the case of a "severe state fiscal hardship."

This year's effort, Proposition 1A, limits the frequency that lawmakers can dip into those revenues for the state budget and require them to repay the money within a few years.

Opponents had argued that the ballot effort could deprive public schools of some funding.

Proposition 1A does not have any revenue or cost effect to the state.

A plan to use bonds for transportation projects throughout the state was ahead 61 percent to 39 percent.

The transportation bond, Proposition 1B, has a price tag for the state of about $20 billion during the next 30 years. In return, revenue will be earmarked throughout the state for traffic mitigation, road repairs, safety improvements, ports, airports and rail.

Traffic mitigation work is slated to get $11.25 billion. Public transportation will receive $4 billion, goods movement and air quality will receive $3.2 billion and safety and security improvements will receive nearly $1.5 billion.

Ballot questions in several counties also focused on transportation funding.

Voters in Fresno County overwhelmingly supported extending a half-cent sales tax for transportation set to expire in 2007. Seventy-seven percent of voters approved Measure C. It is expected to raise $1.7 billion for roadwork and bus service through 2027.

A similar question was narrowly approved by voters in Orange County. Measure C extends by 30 years a half-cent retail transaction and use tax. The tax was set to expire in 2011. It is estimated that $11.8 billion will be generated for transportation improvements and traffic congestion relief in the county. The tax extension required two-thirds support for passage. It received 68 percent.

Voters in Kern, Madera and Santa Barbara counties decided whether to authorize tax increases to benefit transportation work.

In Kern County, support was not strong enough to pass a measure that would've allowed a half-cent sales tax increase over 20 years. Measure I received 56 percent of the vote in favor but 66 percent was required for passage. It would've generated an estimated $1 billion during the next two decades to relieve congestion, improve traffic safety, and match federal and state transportation funding.

Madera County voters approved a 20-year, half-cent road tax that will spend $213 million to improve major thoroughfares. Measure T passed with nearly three-quarters of voters' support. It needed two-thirds approval to pass.

The ballot in Santa Barbara County included a question of whether to authorize a 30-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase. Measure D called for an estimated $1.6 billion during that time for traffic congestion relief that would include increased bus service and a commuter rail line connecting Ventura and Santa Barbara. The effort failed passage despite receiving 54 percent of the vote. It needed a two-thirds majority for passage.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor