California counties consider transportation tax increases

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/30/2013

Two California counties could soon have an easier path to increasing sales taxes for transportation.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, introduced a bill that would authorize Alameda and Contra Costa counties to put transportation measures on their ballots to boost funding for local infrastructure.

Officials in Alameda County want to take another crack at getting voters to double the local transportation sales tax to fix potholes, improve roads and freeways, and expand public transit throughout the county.

In November, an effort to permanently increase the local tax from one-half cent to one full cent was defeated despite 66.53 percent voting in favor of the change. The question fell just short of the necessary 66.67 percent threshold.

Contra Costa County voters last approved renewing their half-cent tax nearly a decade ago.

The counties cannot put transportation sales tax measures on the ballot without first getting an exemption from state lawmakers. The restriction is in place because some cities would be pushed above a sales tax cap set by the state.

“This bill will give both counties the ability and flexibility to put critical transportation infrastructure projects before the voters,” Wieckowski said in a news release.

AB210 would grant both counties the authority to exceed the cap if voters approve an increase by Dec. 31, 2020.

It’s in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee.

A Senate measure would lower the voter threshold for approving local transportation sales tax questions. Sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, the proposed amendment to the state constitution – SCA8 – would drop the threshold from 66.67 percent to 55 percent.

In place since 1995, California law requires approval of two-thirds of voters in any city, county, or special district to pass transportation tax increases. Affected tax votes include vehicle fees, bonds and sales taxes.

Corbett’s proposal is set for a May 15 hearing. A similar effort, SCA4, is also scheduled for discussion.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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