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Construction industry bets big on Measure J 

The campaign to convince voters to support a half-cent transportation sales tax ballot measure is getting a little help from companies that could land lucrative contracts should the measure pass.

Campaign finance reports obtained by New Times showed that 88 percent of the $53,150 in reported donations to the committee supporting the ballot measure, called Measure J, came from businesses or political action committees with ties to the construction and engineering industries.

If voters approve Measure J in November, it will increase SLO County’s sales tax by adding a half-cent tax to every dollar of a purchased item, with some exemptions. That increase would rake in $225 million over the next nine years, and those millions would be spent on a number of road and transportation projects within the county. 

Someone will have to design and build those infrastructure projects, and several of the donors could potentially receive a piece of that $225 million by bidding for contracts on the various projects funded by the measure.

Thus far, the largest donation to Citizens for SLO County Self Help Local Transportation was $10,000 from Leigh Hanson Inc., a Texas-based company that, according its website, supplies concrete, asphalt, and aggregate material used for road, highway, and other construction projects in the United States and Canada. Kimley-Horn Associates, a construction design and consulting firm with a location in Orange, Calif., donated $2,000.

Two political action committees for prominent California labor unions—the Laborers Pacific Southwest Regional, organizing Coalitions Issues PAC and the Associated General Contractors PAC—donated a combined total of $13,650 to the pro-Measure J committee.

But it isn’t just out-of-town interests donating to support the measure. Papich Construction, a Pismo Beach-based company that provides grading, road building, and other services, donated $7,500. MNS Engineering, a SLO-based company that worked on local road projects including the Willow Road Interchange, donated $3,000 to the committee. Other local construction industry donors included Souza Construction and Toste Grading and Paving, which donated $5,000 each.

Non-construction related donors included the SLO Bicycle Club and the Automobile Club of Southern California. 

The monetary support from local and outside construction businesses didn’t surprise Andrea Seastrand. Seastrand is the president of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, the group heading up the committee opposing Measure J. Among her criticisms of the measure are claims that the measure’s biggest “cheerleaders” are those who could claim a slice of the tax revenue for themselves via lucrative contracts.

“It’s just a fact that they are the ones who will get a benefit from it,” Seastrand, a former Republican state Assembly member and former U.S. congresswoman, told New Times.

Jorge Aguilar, a chair for the SLO County Self Help Local Transportation committee in support of Measure J, noted that the projects funded by the tax would have to go through the normal competitive bidding process. That would allow companies to compete for those contracts, regardless of whether they gave money in support of the measure. 

“The selection process for contracting any public work project is a separate, legally prescribed, and independent process,” Aguilar, a principal for the Wallace Group engineering and design firm, wrote in an email response to questions from New Times. “A diverse cross section of businesses and individuals support Measure J; what they have in common is that they know how critical our roads are to our economy and quality of life.”

Seastrand’s group had not reported any donations as of Sept. 21, but only donations of more than $1,000 are required to be reported. Seastrand said the committee received some small donations, but was currently focused on collecting signatures from local residents against the measure. 

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