In the short term, the narrow defeat of Sacramento County’s sales tax for transportation and transit will cause all sorts of headaches. The county needed those improvements, urgently.
But in the long term, it creates another chance to fine tune the region’s strategy and align it with climate policy. It also gives more time to seek help from the Legislature (though a special session on transportation funding is ending next week without a deal) or from a Trump administration infrastructure plan.
Measure B, a half-cent sales tax increase, would have generated about $3.6 billion over 30 years for road repairs and maintenance, as well as sidewalks and bicycle lanes. About 30 percent of the money would have gone to cash-strapped Regional Transit. General Manager Henry Li says RT will streamline operations, possibly spike cost-of-living increases, boost revenues with advertising, and seek state and federal money.
Supporters conceded defeat Wednesday after the updated vote count Tuesday showed the “yes” side at 65 percent, which they accurately said would be a “landslide in most elections” but was nearly 8,100 votes shy of the two-thirds majority required. Nearly 46,000 voters skipped the measure on their ballot.
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They’re talking about trying again in 2018. They’re also considering pushing the Legislature to ask voters to lower the threshold on local transportation tax measures to 55 percent, as they did for local school bonds in 2000. Of the 12 other countywide sales tax hikes for transportation on the Nov. 8 ballot, five others failed, including Measure M in Placer County. All but the tax in Humboldt County would have passed had only 55 percent been needed for approval.
Measure B backers are also trying to figure out what went wrong. It had the support of local elected officials, as well as business groups. Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg gave it a huge, if late, financial boost, helping raise money and loaning $200,000 in leftover campaign funds, as did contractors and others who would have benefited.
The “no” campaign was vastly outspent, but it had an unexpected benefactor. Lawrence Carli, who lives near Elk Grove, bankrolled the effort with at least $21,730 in donations, plus a $13,000 loan. He opposed Measure B because it included the controversial Capital SouthEast Connector, a major highway that would link Folsom and Elk Grove – and that would run through his front yard. That project is backed by many developers, but opposed by environmental groups who say it would invite sprawl.
Lawmakers should think hard about making local transportation easier to pay for. Meanwhile, however, supporters should use the time to reach out even more strenuously to divergent interests, and to reassure voters that the Sacramento Transportation Authority and RT aren’t wasting money.
The region must still find a way to fund urgent transportation and transit improvements. Our prosperity and air quality depend on it.