As President Barack Obama has recently called for a recommitment to improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure, so has the Stanislaus Council of Governments, who informally agreed on Wednesday to commit to bringing forth a countywide transportation tax to Stanislaus County in November 2016.
Although the StanCOG Policy Board did not discuss the potential tax amount or how long it will last, such terms, measure details, and an expenditure plan are expected to be worked out throughout the next year.
The Policy Board had discussed bringing the countywide transportation tax to voters this November, even going as far as to provide an expenditure plan that was reviewed by the city councils from each of the County’s nine jurisdictions. After receiving feedback, the Policy Board decided against placing the measure on the November ballot, saying that they did not feel there was enough regional support for the tax at this time — a factor that consultants have told StancCOG members will be vital to the measure’s future success.
Despite the Policy Board’s decision to abandon this tax this election season, there are still plenty of supporters for the tax measure who say that a better road system is not only important for the local economy by providing improved roadways and transit, but for the betterment of the quality of life in Stanislaus County. While polling conducted by StanCOG in March showed a decent amount of support for the transportation tax, there were still many critics who believe the measure would just be an added weight on local taxpayers. The poll of 601 voters earlier this year showed roughly 64 percent of county voters supported for a 2014 vote, while more favored a 2016 vote due to it being a Presidential election year.
Although previous measures in 2006 and 2008 had seen majority support, the votes in favor of the initiative did not make up the two-thirds majority as required for transportation taxes.
With the StanCOG Policy Board dropping the countywide transportation tax, the Turlock City Council recently decided to bring forth a citywide half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation improvements in Turlock only. If approved by Turlock voters in November, the transportation tax would go into effect for seven years, or until a countywide transportation tax was approved.
In March, StanCOG executive director Carlos Yamzon said that increasing sales tax by a half percent would raise $970 million over a 25 year span. In the abandoned expenditure plan, 47 percent would have been for road repairs and local projects, while new regional corridors or expressways would have received 47 percent, and 6 percent would have gone to train and bicycle projects, in addition to mobility management for seniors and the disabled.
County Supervisor Vito Chiesa has continually expressed support for a countywide transportation tax measure, saying that it would make the region more competitive for federal and state funding, while also being imperative to the regional economy.
On Wednesday, the StanCOG Policy Board also held a public hearing on the Regional Transportation Plan, the Sustainable Communities Strategy and Federal Transportation Improvement Plan, reviewing projects seeking federal funding throughout 2018.
With the federal Highway Trust Fund going bankrupt by the end of summer, however, future projects are heavily depending on whether or not members of Congress soon develop and approve a plan to replenish the fund.
According to analysts, avoiding the “transportation cliff” is more complex than being committed to replenishing the Highway Trust Fund, particularly with the upcoming midterm elections. More than 112,000 projects and 700,000 jobs hang in the balance, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The number of jobs that could be lost is greater than the combined populations of Tampa, Fla., and St. Louis.
"Right now, there are more than 100,000 active projects paving roads and rebuilding bridges, modernizing our transit systems," Obama said last week, in regards to the impending transportation cliff. "States might have to choose which ones to put the brake on. Some states are already starting to slow down work because they’re worried Congress won’t untangle the gridlock on time. And that’s something you should remember every time you see a story about a construction project stopped, or machines idled, or workers lay off their jobs."
Similar to Stanislaus County, many jurisdictions and municipalities across the nation are considering their own transportation tax to help accumulate funds to finance local infrastructure improvements.