Lots of transportation tax measures are headed to November ballot

By Tony Bizjak

tbizjak@sacbee.com

May 15, 2016 03:31 PM

Los Angeles County, where congestion is worsening, is among the California counties considering transportation sales tax measures. Sacramento and Placer counties have similar plans. Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles County, where congestion is worsening, is among the California counties considering transportation sales tax measures. Sacramento and Placer counties have similar plans. Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

It’s looking like the November ballot will be a big one for transportation in California.

A dozen counties, including Sacramento and Placer, are planning to put sales tax measures on the ballot, asking voters to chip in billions of dollars to help fix rutted roads and relieve at least some of the state’s growing post-recession congestion.

San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Contra Costa are among the counties likely to ask their local voters to pull out the pocketbooks. Locally, Yolo County is talking about doing the same but hasn’t quite made up its mind.

Counties and cities used to rely almost completely on federal and state funds, mainly through gas pump taxes. But those governments have been suffering their own gridlock, of the political sort, for years as transportation funding sources falter.

“We have a growing chronic deficit of funding at the state and federal levels,” laments Keith Dunn, executive director of the Self Help Counties Coalition, a group that says counties and their residents need to step up.

Sacramento County’s proposed measure would raise $3.6 billion over 30 years via a half-cent sales tax increase. It focuses on fixing existing dilapidated roads first but includes funds to help get light rail (someday) to the airport and widen the Capital City Freeway over the American River.

In Placer County, transportation officials voted unanimously two weeks ago to pitch an initiative that would raise $1.6 billion over 30 years to help pay for road improvements, again via a half-cent sales tax increase. Advocates are visiting local city councils over the next few weeks, asking for support.

If the measure makes it to the ballot, it would need the approval of two-thirds of voters, a serious task in a county where many residents are anti-tax.

The biggest project on Placer’s list is the Interstate 80/Highway 65 interchange, where cars come to a complete stop on the freeway daily as drivers wait to funnel onto thin, low-speed ramps between the two freeways. The second-biggest project on Placer’s list is an additional passenger-rail track between Roseville and Sacramento, allowing up to 10 passenger train trips daily between the two cities.

The measure’s author, the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, has tried to spread the wealth. Each city in the county will get its own pot of money to use any way it wants to fix streets or try to make a dent in congestion hot spots.

Yolo County may take a different approach from Placer and Sacramento. Officials there are discussing whether to put a transportation-only measure on the ballot, or a measure that would also provide funding for additional preschool slots for low-income families, and funding to address homelessness through increased mental health, substance abuse and housing services.

Alexander Tengolics, Yolo County legislative and government affairs specialist, said the county is conducting public opinion research and hopes to bring its findings to the Board of Supervisors later this month.

Unlike Placer and Sacramento, Yolo officials say they do not have a list of transportation projects to pitch. If they pursue a transportation measure, the money would go to existing road rehabilitation and maintenance.