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SLO County isn't moving forward with tax to fund transportation 

With SLO County facing a $2.3 billion shortfall in transportation funding, a sales tax for transportation seemed like a practical way to make up for the lack of dollars. But the tax didn't make the popularity cut for this year's ballot.

In June 2023, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) approved a 23-year regional transportation plan that identified a need for $2.3 billion extra in county transportation funding.

"Over the next 23 years, the projects that were in the plan and some of those projects that also identified as 'we really want this for this throughout our communities,' just are not going to happen. We're not going to be able to fund these projects," SLOCOG Deputy Director James Worthley told New Times. "We do expect them to be funded sometime within those 23 years, but it might not be until the 20th year.

"So, projects that people typically want to see done in, you know, five years or less won't because the funding isn't there. It's not going to happen."

Worthley said that lack of funding means that safety, downtown, pedestrian, and highway improvements likely won't happen in the next 10 years.

SLOCOG drafted a transportation investment plan, which proposed a half-cent transportation sales tax measure that would generate $35 million region-wide over the next 20 years, resulting in $700 million back to SLO's economy to help with community road safety and congestion improvements, according to previous New Times reporting.

click to enlarge 2024 BALLOT A transportation sales tax won’t make its way to the November 2024 ballot as only 64 percent of SLO County voters favored it, according to a poll sent out by the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • 2024 BALLOT A transportation sales tax won’t make its way to the November 2024 ballot as only 64 percent of SLO County voters favored it, according to a poll sent out by the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments.

"We did public outreach last summer and fall with surveys and meeting groups and asked people what's needed out there," Worthley said. "Lots of potholes were identified as needing to be fixed, some safety issues are identified, so we took all that information, and we rolled it into a draft investment plan."

SLOCOG worked its way through the seven city councils in SLO County, and Worthley said some were warm to the idea and others were cold—for instance, the Arroyo Grande City Council, which is in the process of deciding whether to add its own local sales tax measure to the November ballot, according to previous New Times reporting.

According to a May 1 SLOCOG staff report, 1,065 responses were collected from a poll sent out to SLO County residents. About 64 percent of the responses were supportive of a transportation tax on the November 2024 ballot.

"We brought all this information to our local board on May 1, and said here's where we are. Some of the hurdles would be there's going to be a crowded ballot on November's election, and some of the cities are looking forward to going for their own either new or renewal of a sales tax," Worthley said. "It's not the best time to go forward then; let's kind of push pause in heading toward November 2024."

It's not the first time a county-wide transportation tax aimed for the ballot box. In 2016, SLO County voters narrowly rejected Measure J, a half-cent sales tax for transportation, according to previous New Times reporting.

Worthley said SLOCOG is going to continue conversations about how to help make up some of the needed funding in the future.

"We're still missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars because we don't have this tax that others have," he said. "But we don't see necessarily a chance, the best chance to win in November 2024." Δ

Note: This article was updated to include a photo and links.

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