Half-cent sales tax for road repairs is one step closer to the November ballot

Paso Robles is considering putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot to fund road repairs and a new fire station.
Paso Robles is considering putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot to fund road repairs and a new fire station. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County’s transportation planning agency will begin the process of placing a countywide half-cent sales tax measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments this week approved the next steps in the sales tax measure that would generate $25 million annually in funds for road maintenance and improvements over nine years.

There are many steps left before the sales tax becomes a reality, however, including agreement from a majority of the cities in the county and the county Board of Supervisors to put the issue in front of voters and, finally, a two-thirds approval from voters.

Ron De Carli, SLOCOG executive director, called the vote “a major milestone” in providing stable transportation funding.

“With the ongoing decline in state and federal transportation funding, SLO County residents are now one step closer to having the ability to decide if they want to use local funds for local priorities,” he said.

The estimated cost of the election is $300,000.

The SLOCOG board consists of all five county supervisors as well as a council member from all seven cities. The vote on the sales tax measure was 9-2 with county supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton voting no. Supervisor Bruce Gibson was absent.

Council members in favor of placing the measure on the ballot did so in order to let the voters decide the issue and have said the sales tax revenue is needed. Compton and Arnold do not want any further taxes and say the measure would reward poor transportation spending in Sacramento.

$300,000 Amount it would cost to put measure on the ballot

20 Number of “self-help” counties in California, representing 84 percent of the state’s population

If approved, 55 percent of the funds would go to local jurisdictions for use on their own projects, including road repair and maintenance. Another 20 percent would fund projects for public transportation and bike and pedestrian improvements, such as the Bob Jones Trail.

Twenty-five percent would be used to reduce traffic congestion on major roadways and highways. Several of the top priorities for this funding would be Highway 101 through Pismo Beach and Shell Beach as well as Highway 227 south of San Luis Obispo.

Now that the plan of action has been approved, it goes to the seven city councils. These meetings will take place throughout June. At a minimum, a majority of the cities, representing a majority of the incorporated population, must approve the plan.

It would then go to the Board of Supervisors on July 12 for its approval. The next day, it would go back to SLOCOG for that panel’s approval.

Supervisors will then have until Aug. 9 to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. Final approval of the measure requires two-thirds of the voting public.

Approval of the sales tax would make San Luis Obispo County what is known as a “self-help” county because it will have its own dedicated source of transportation funding and would not be as reliant on state and federal funding.

Twenty California counties, containing 84 percent of the state’s population, are self-help counties.

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

For more information on the proposed tax measure, visit www.selfhelpslo.com.