Sacramento County sales tax measure heads to November ballot

Sacramento County officials will ask voters in November for a sales tax hike to fix roads and improve transit.
Sacramento County officials will ask voters in November for a sales tax hike to fix roads and improve transit. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Saying potholes are growing but government budgets are shrinking, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors submitted a measure Tuesday for the November ballot asking voters to raise the sales tax for an array of transportation improvements.

Measure B, called the Road Maintenance and Traffic Relief Act, would increase the county tax a half-cent on the dollar for 30 years. It will require approval of two-thirds of county voters to pass.

The measure was put together this spring by city and county representatives on the Sacramento Transportation Authority, and placed on the Nov. 8 ballot Tuesday by Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Under the plan, 70 percent of an estimated $3.6 billion in revenues would go to road projects, with a “Fix It First” theme in the first five years, focused on repaving streets and filling potholes.

Thirty percent would go to transit, much of that to Sacramento Regional Transit, which operates buses and light-rail trains.

The Sacramento Transportation Authority board made a point of requiring RT to spend 75 percent of its tax allocation in the first five years on shoring up basic operations, such as replacing old buses, doing maintenance and improving security, rather than expanding bus routes or rail lines.

Sacramento transportation officials say they are pushing the tax measure because a lack of state and federal transportation funds has left the county and its cities without adequate funds for basic roadwork or money for expansion to meet needs of expected county population growth.

State and federal transportation gas tax levels have not increased since the early 1990s. The emergence of more fuel-efficient cars and trucks has eaten into gas tax revenue, as well.

Both Placer and Yolo county officials are contemplating similar measures.

Sacramento County already is among 19 “self-help” counties in the state that have passed transportation sales tax measures to supplement state and federal funds. Sacramento’s existing half-cent transportation sales tax was passed by voters in 2004. It went into effect in 2009 and will be in place until 2039. The potential new tax would overlap the existing tax for a number of years.

The current Sacramento County sales tax rate is 8 percent, while the city of Sacramento’s rate is 8.5 percent. The Measure B half-cent increase would go into effect starting April 1. An existing statewide quarter-cent sales tax is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, so the Sacramento County rate would become 8.25 percent and the city of Sacramento rate would become 8.75 percent in April.

Part of the Sacramento tax revenues would go to cities to spend for repairs as well as new interchanges, widening roads, and bike, pedestrian and transit improvements. The tax also would provide funds to extend light rail to Sacramento International Airport, and would allow Elk Grove to create an express bus corridor along Bruceville Road.

The measure would provide money to continue work on a major road expansion along White Rock and Grant Line roads called the Capital Southeast Connector. Money would go toward widening the Capital City Freeway, including widening that freeway’s bridge over the American River.

Sacramento Transportation Authority officials and their consultants said they believe the November ballot measure will pass, although its margin is slim. A recent survey conducted for the transportation authority found that 69 percent of likely Sacramento County voters would support the tax measure, just above the 67 percent threshold. The poll showed support levels could drop to 61 percent, however, if there is organized opposition.

Various stakeholder groups have expressed concerns about the measure, some saying expenditures are focused too heavily on cars and roads. The Save the American River Association sent a letter Tuesday opposing the measure, saying a proposed new bridge over the American River Parkway at Truxel Road for light rail, cars, bikes and pedestrians would destroy 5 acres of riparian habitat.

Transportation authority board Chairwoman Kerri Howell, a Folsom City Council member, called on business representatives, transit advocates, bike and pedestrian activists and others to join in supporting the measure.

“We’re doing what we think is best ... so we can actually get this done,” Howell said. “If we don’t get it passed, no one gets anything.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak