Half-cent transportation sales tax goes on Nov. 8 ballot


San Luis Obispo County voters will decide whether there will be a countywide half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.

A divided county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to place the sales tax measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. As in past votes on the subject, Supervisors Frank Mecham, Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson voted to place the measure on the ballot, while Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton voted “no.”

Supervisors in favor of the measure cited the desire to let the voters decide the issue.

“The very fundamental thing to me is to let the people make the choice,” Mecham said.

In opposing the ballot measure, Arnold and Compton said they don’t want to burden county residents with any new taxes.

“I continue to believe that this is not the time to ask voters for more money,” Arnold said.

If approved by voters, the measure would generate an estimated $25 million a year over nine years for a total of $225 million. The measure requires a two-thirds voter approval to pass.

The measure has received the support of all seven cities in the county as well as the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the county’s transportation planning agency.

If approved, the measure would make the county what is known as a “self-help” county, because it would have its own dedicated source of transportation funding rather than relying on state and federal funding. Twenty California counties, which make up 84 percent of the state’s population, are self-help counties.

“Today marks a major milestone for transportation funding in our region,” SLOCOG Executive Director Ron De Carli said. “With the ongoing decline in state and federal transportation funding, SLO County residents now have the ability to decide if they want to raise local funds for local transportation priorities.”

If voters approve the half-cent sales tax, 55 percent of the funds would go to jurisdictions for their own transportation projects, including road repair and maintenance. Another 20 percent would fund projects for public transportation and bike and pedestrian improvements, including the Bob Jones Trail.

Another 25 percent would be used to reduce traffic congestion on major roadways and highways. Several of the top priorities would be Highway 101 through Shell Beach and Pismo Beach and Highway 227 south of San Luis Obispo.

The measure has several safeguards written in, including protection from state raids, a nine-year sunset date, the formation of a Citizens Taxpayer Oversight Committee, a 1 percent administrative expense cap, and annual audits and reporting, De Carli said.