ELECTION 2016: Voters in some California counties to decide on transportation revenue

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/14/2016

Countywide ballots throughout the state of California next month will include questions to raise revenue for transportation work.

Ventura County is among the one-third of the state’s 58 counties asking voters whether to continue or to approve new revenue sources for road, bridge and/or transit purposes.

Passage of Measure AA in the Los Angeles area would increase the county’s sales tax by one-half cent for 30 years. The tax is estimated to raise $3.3 billion through 2047 for projects that include pothole repair, street repaving, bridge repair, and highway work. Revenue would also finance bus and rail improvements.

Revenue would be split between the county’s 10 cities and the Ventura County Transportation Commission. The commission could use the money for projects identified as regional transportation priorities.

Specifically, 20 percent would be used for freeway improvements, including the widening of Highway 101 and the stretch of Highway 118 between Simi Valley and Moorpark.

Another 21.5 percent would be earmarked for roads connecting cities and carrying heavy freight; expanding bus service; benefiting commuter rail; and improving bike and pedestrian routes.

Local jurisdictions would each receive a minimum of $500,000. The remainder of the local share would be distributed according to a formula based on percentage of lane miles within the jurisdiction.

Thousand Oaks would receive the biggest share with $5.96 million annually. Oxnard and Simi Valley would claim $5.36 million and $4.94 million each year, respectively.

Advocates say that passage of the sales tax can be leveraged to get state and federal grants. Specifically, collections of a local tax would result in the designation as a “self-help” county.

The “self-help” designation means counties have a local, secure, and independent transportation funding mechanism. There are 20 counties in the state that collect local sales taxes to aid local transportation work.

Opponents say the plan is full of generalities and short on specifics.

In neighboring San Luis Obispo County, voters will also decide on the “self-help” designation via a half-cent transportation sales tax.

Measure J-16 amounts to a nine-year, $225 million tax that would be used to fix potholes; repave local streets; relieve traffic congestion; improve street, highway and bridge safety; and make bike and transit improvements.

The county’s seven cities would split 55 percent of the funds for their own transportation projects. Another 20 percent would pay for public transportation and bike and pedestrian improvements. The other 25 percent would be used to reduce traffic congestion on major roadways that include highways 101 and 227.

Advocates say the new revenue source is needed because fuel tax revenue has fallen significantly in recent years. Opponents counter that the tax amounts to a Ponzi scheme, which will take money from taxpayers never to be seen again.

Up the coast in Humboldt County, voters will choose whether to become a “self-help” county.

Measure U will ask voters to decide on a 20-year, half-percent transportation and use tax for purposes that include road improvements.

The county would use $2 million annually for resurfacing roads.

Supporters say the revenue raised through the tax would help the county address a $250 million deferred road maintenance backlog.

Ballots in Placer County will include a question to raise $1.6 billion over 30 years through a one-half cent sales tax.

Measure M would apply revenue to reconfigure the Interstate 80/Highway 65 interchange; improve roads; pothole repair; widen roadways; expand transit; expand Highway 65; and build the Placer Parkway to create alternatives to I-80.

Advocates say that passage of the question would allow the county to pursue state and federal matching funds for transportation projects.

Critics say many of the projects may not be completed without future revenue increases, and that county leaders should first do a better job prioritizing the spending of existing revenue.

Approval of countywide sales tax questions requires a two-thirds majority.

For more 2016 California election coverage from Land Line, click here.

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