The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve details of a countywide ballot measure that would levy a half-cent sales tax. That tax would raise $225 million over nine years to fund transportation projects.
Every time there’s a discussion on raising taxes, there will always be a part of the affected population that will completely disregard that conversation because they feel they’re overburdened with taxes already. That’s a fair point. But in many cases, the anti-tax dissenting opinion doesn’t want to entertain a discussion about the necessity. For instance, District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton explained her dissenting vote by saying that the measure — which residents would ultimately vote on — is a “transportation slush fund.”
That’s not exactly the case.
55 percent of the funds raised from the half-cent sales tax is specifically earmarked for local road improvements with 25 percent going toward major road and highway improvements and the rest is allocated for public transportation, bike and pedestrian pathways. As far as necessity is concerned, all seven city councils within the county’s jurisdiction have approved the measure. The measure would also turn SLO County into a “self-help” county, meaning the county would have a dedicated source of transportation funding in lieu of seeking state and federal funding. In turn, self-help counties are more likely to obtain grants and matching funds for larger transportation projects. If the half-cent sales tax measure doesn’t pass, the county is left to fend for table scraps from the state and federal government — and whatever is left over is passed onto the seven city councils. Getting roads maintained and improved in a timely manner would be harder for local municipalities to guarantee.
According to the County staff report, the SLO County Self-Help Local Transportation Investment Plan specifically identifies projects for each city that approved the measure (see pg. 7). They also identify community projects for the unincorporated areas, including maintenance funds for each project. Highway improvement projects are also explained in detail. Clearly there are projects that require maintenance and improvement, which will benefit everyone in SLO County. While many of these cities already have transportation sales taxes in place, the cities wouldn’t be approving the measure if they had enough in their coffers to make significant investments in transportation.
Why raise taxes now? Turns out revenue accumulated from the gas tax is experiencing a decline. Revenue is declining because more motorists are using less gas. The auto industry is focusing more on selling electric and hybrid vehicles along with better fuel-efficient vehicles. Naturally, gas tax revenues to pay for state highways, local roads and bridges are shrinking. There needs to be a measure that pays for the shortfall. Fortunately, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments found a way to not only make up for the shortfall but also make our county more self-sufficient in funding. We know where the money is going and for what; the need for this funding is clearly there.
SLO Truth wholeheartedly endorses the half-cent sales tax measure.