California transportation sales tax threshold up for debate

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/5/2013

An effort on the move at the California statehouse would lower the number of public votes needed for approving local transportation-related tax questions.

In place since 1995, California law requires approval of two-thirds of voters in any city, county, or special district to benefit infrastructure improvements. Affected tax votes include property taxes and bonds.

The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee recently advanced two measures to make it easier to boost transportation funding. Specifically, the legislation seeks to drop the voter threshold from 66.67 percent to 55 percent for local sales taxes dedicated to transportation.

Supporters say the process to get tax votes approved needs to be simplified because needed projects around the state continue to stack up. They cite an Alameda County vote from last fall. Measure B1 was a 30-year, $7.7 billion initiative to fix potholes, improve roads and freeways, and expand public transit throughout the county.

The proposal to double the county’s one-half cent transportation sales tax received nearly 66 percent support. However, the margin of defeat was about 700 votes.

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, told committee members that he opposes the change. He said that lowering the voter threshold undermines the taxpayer protection that has been in place for nearly two decades.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura, said that she is in favor of the proposed amendment because it allows voters to decide.

“Most people will support local measures where they can see tangible benefits to their communities. I think putting it on the ballot and letting the public decide ... is critically important,” Pavley stated.

The legislation, SCA4, is awaiting further consideration before it can move to the Senate floor. A similar version, SCA8, also awaits consideration by the full Senate. If approved there, the legislation would advance to the Assembly.

If approved by lawmakers, the legislation would go to voters for the 2014 fall election. A simple majority would be necessary to make the change.

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