Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Politicos support transit tax


A diverse group of politicians and public watchdogs gathered on the steps of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse yesterday to voice their collective support for Measure A, a half-cent transportation sales tax that will appear on this November’s general election ballot.
If approved, Measure A will renew Measure D, an existing half-cent sales tax that will expire in 2010.

What made yesterday’s rally unusual, was the mix of characters voicing heart-felt support for the measure. The group included the likes of Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, who is often at odds with the likes of county First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who also supports Measure A.
Along with the Board of Supervisors, every city in the county has voted to support the measure.
“It’s very surprising and telling that we’re all up here supporting this collectively,” Carbajal said. “This is a great opportunity for the County of Santa Barbara to continue to preserve the quality of life we have grown accustomed to and expect.”
The historically battling factions of north and south county, and the characters leading those battles, say they are able to agree on Measure A because of drastic changes made to the measure since 2006, when Measure D’s renewal, also called Measure D, proposed an additional quarter-cent sales tax increase on top of what is already in existence, and failed.
Caldwell said this issue was addressed with Measure A, as were several others he had difficulty accepting, including a proposal then that would have used Measure D money to fund a commuter rail project between Santa Barbara and Ventura.
While he wasn’t against the idea of a train, Caldwell said he was opposed to using money allocated for projects in North County to be used on a train residents there would never ride.
Instead of the money being pooled in one giant account from projects throughout the county, the funds from Measure A would now be split evenly between north and south to the tune of roughly $455 million, if the sales tax brings in the estimated $1.5 billion in revenues over its 30-year life.
“The bottom line that we like Measure A is it’s local money for local projects with local control,” Caldwell said.
If approved, the measure will allocate funds to local street improvements such as pothole repairs and synchronized traffic signals, increase senior and disabled accessibility to public transit and build safer walking and bike routes to schools.
Since the measure is based on sales tax revenue, it taxes anyone who spends money in the county, including tourists. Caldwell said this is important since the tourists use the roads and other infrastructure.
He also said having a designated funding stream when applying for state and federal matching funds for projects is integral to securing any available funds.
And if large construction projects, such as Highway 101 widening that increase exponentially from decade to decade need to happen in a timely manner, Caldwell said that if need be, the county could borrow against that revenue stream.
“This allows you to front-load the projects and get them done,” he said.
Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, Solvang Mayor Linda Jackson and Buellton Mayor Russ Hicks all voiced their support for Measure A, as did Third District County Supervisor Brooks Firestone.
“I appreciate the fact that this has been working for many years,” he said. “And am pleased that it means no new taxes.”
More information about Measure A is available at

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