Friday, March 21, 2008

SBCAG backs sales tax measure


As the expiration of a decades-old transportation tax nears, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments on Thursday approved Measure A, a half-cent sales tax initiative that will likely be on the general election ballot this November.
If approved by county voters, Measure A is expected to funnel $1 billion in local sales tax revenues to the county and its eight cities between 2010 and 2040.

The money will be used strictly for transportation projects, which include the widening of Highway 101, increases in mass transportation funding and local street improvements.
Measure A was developed by two committees, one from North County and another from the south, and was unanimously approved by the SBCAG board, which consists of all five members of the Board of Supervisors and one representative from each of the county’s eight cities.
“The plan developed by the committees and approved by the SBCAG board is a significant achievement,” said Jim Kemp, SBCAG’s executive director. “The members have worked hard to ensure that the unique transportation needs in each community will be addressed.”
Though Measure A appears to be on its way to the ballot, the Board of Supervisors and all eight city councils still need to give it their approval before it can make the official cut.
If it does make the ballot and is approved by two-thirds of the county’s electorate, it will replace Measure D, which was approved by voters in 1989 and is set to expire in 2010.
In 2006, Measure D’s successor, which appeared on the ballot under the same name, failed to win voters over, in part because it proposed a tax increase of an additional quarter cent, which would have turned the measure into a three-quarter-cent sales tax.
Kemp is confident Measure A will be approved by voters because it is simply a continuation of what they are already paying for.
“I think we have a much stronger plan than we did in 2006,” he said. “The fact that it’s not a tax increase, people are going to take a different view of it than they did in 2006.”
Kemp said another factor that turned many voters off in 2006 was a number of mass transportation projects, such as commuter rail, that were specific to South County, but would have been paid for in part by residents in the north.
Apart from the widening of Highway 101 south of Santa Barbara, which is expected to cost about $140 million, the pot of money will be split in half, with about $500 million earmarked for projects in the north and that same amount for the south.
“Frankly the needs exist in both parts of the county, they’re just different in some respects,” Kemp said.
He said the money created through the measure would be distributed not only to the county, but to municipalities as well.
If Measure A fails to impress voters, Kemp said the consequences would include increased congestion on the county’s 1,870 road miles, vast cuts to mass transportation programs and a deterioration of the roadways.
According to Kemp, Santa Barbara’s Metropolitan Transit District currently relies on Measure D funding to float 20 percent of its annual budget, while commuter buses such as the Clean Air Express, which rely heavily on Measure D funding, could cease to exist.
Prior to Measure D’s approval in 1989, Kemp said 10 percent of the county’s roads were rated as being in good condition compared to 60 percent today.
Before 1989, he said transportation improvements were solely funded through gasoline taxes, which have remained stagnant for the past two decades despite soaring costs to nearly everything else — a reality that has greatly reduced the purchasing power of those funds.
In the face of not having the sales tax money, Kemp said the county and its cities would still have the gas taxes, but that amount of money would be grossly inadequate to maintain current services.
Even with the continuation of the half-cent sales tax, Kemp said a number of prospective projects had to be cut in order to balance the area’s needs with future funds.
“We had to whittle down projects,” he said. “The needs are still there. Measure A doesn’t take care of every need.”
More information about Measure A is available at

No comments: