Supervisors move ahead with half-cent sales tax measure for November ballot

The San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo.
The San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Placing a countywide half-cent sales tax measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot to pay for transportation and road projects came one step closer to reality Tuesday.

A divided San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors authorized the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments to draw up a plan for how it would spend the estimated $25 million a year that the tax increase would generate. The half-cent increase would be in effect for nine years.

The supervisors also designated SLOCOG as the county’s local transportation authority, giving it the power to begin planning for the sales tax measure. The Board of Supervisors will make a final decision in July or August whether it will put the measure on the ballot.

If put on the ballot, the measure would require approval by two-thirds of the voters. Some of the projects it could pay for include improvements to Highway 101 through Shell Beach, the Bob Jones bike path and an Atascadero-to-Templeton connector path, as well as filling potholes.

Supervisors Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Frank Mecham all voted in favor of putting the measure on the ballot, while Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton opposed it.

The three supervisors in favor of the sales tax said they support it because state and federal transportation money has been significantly reduced in recent years. They also said they support the idea of giving voters a chance to decide whether to levy the half-cent sales tax.

“I go back to the basic premise of let the people decide,” Mecham said.

The two supervisors voting no said the sales tax would essentially be rewarding bad behavior on the part of politicians in Sacramento. The state has squandered its transportation funding, Arnold said.

“I just do not have the appetite to ask voters to dip into their pockets again,” she said. “I would rather focus on getting our money back from Sacramento.”

Approval of the sales tax would make San Luis Obispo County what is known as a “self-help” county because the county will have its own dedicated source of transportation funding and would not be as reliant on state and federal funding. The local funding could also be used as matching funds for state and federal grants.

Twenty of the most populous counties in the state are self-help counties. About 80 percent of the state’s population lives in a self-help county. An additional 15 counties are considering becoming self-help counties.

State and federal transportation funding has decreased drastically in recent years mostly because of dropping gasoline tax revenues. Low oil prices have made gasoline much cheaper, and the increasing popularity of fuel-efficient cars has reduced the amount of gasoline being purchased.