After months of garnering local support for a countywide transportation tax initiative, the Stanislaus Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning agency, has decided against placing the measure on the November ballot.
The unexpected decision came after a countywide poll showed disfavor for the tax initiative, with many residents expressing skepticism about the money staying locally. Although the poll conducted by EMC Research showed that 64 percent of residents called were in favor of the tax, the initiative would take a two-thirds approval, or nearly 67 percent, to pass in the general election.
Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research noted that even when told of the direct benefits of the transportation tax, many of the over 600 Stanislaus residents surveyed still expressed opposition. According to the expenditure plan that had been approved by StanCOG in January, the funds collected from the new countywide transportation half-cent sales tax would go directly towards highways and corridors of regional significance, local road maintenance throughout each of the nine cities in Stanislaus County, and alternative modes of transportation such as rail, bicycle and pedestrian projects, and mobility management for seniors and the disabled.
Additionally, the countywide transportation tax would have qualified Stanislaus County as a self-help county, making the region eligible to use local dollars to leverage billions of federal and state dollars each year to dedicate towards transportation system improvements.
Estimated to generate nearly $970 million over the span of 25 years, the approved expenditure plan for the proposed countywide transportation tax had gained the support of each of the City Councils over the past few months. Although some of the cities such as Turlock and Ceres had minor caveats included within their resolutions of support, the overall consensus had been in favor of seeing the proposed tax initiative go forward to Stanislaus County voters on the November ballot.
Although several local officials believed StanCOG would move forward with putting the initiative on the ballot due to the support from the local councils, StanCOG Director Carlos Yamzon had said in February that the Policy Board would only move forward with the measure should they feel there was enough regional support to carry the tax.
With two failed attempts in 2006 and 2008 to pass the countywide transportation tax, StanCOG had hoped to garner enough regional support before placing the measure on the ballot as to avoid seeing it fail again. Since StanCOG announced their decision to drop the initiative, many local officials are hoping to see the measure brought back in 2016, noting the possibility of the Presidential election drawing in more voters.
During the Turlock Government Night held on Thursday evening at California State University, Stanislaus, Mayor John Lazar mentioned StanCOG’s decision to not pursue the transportation tax, noting his hope that Turlock will be able to place their own measure on the November ballot in its place.
“Even though I was upset to hear that StanCOG would not be moving forward with the countywide transportation tax, we need to keep roadway improvements and transportation a priority here in Turlock,” said Lazar. “Hopefully the Council can try to get something on the November ballot, but without the ability to leverage state and federal dollars, many of Turlock’s roadways cannot get the much-needed improvements.”
Vito Chiesa, who also participated in the Turlock Government Night, said that he hopes the county commits to the countywide tax in 2016.