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One more stop before transportation sales tax goes on SLO County ballot 

A half-percent sales tax that would generate funding for transportation and infrastructure improvements has only one more mile marker to pass before it’s put before voters on the November ballot.

Dubbed the “self-help sales tax” by the collaborative regional government agency San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), the tax would generate $225 million in much needed funding to use exclusively for road repairs and transportation improvement; public transit, bike, and pedestrian safety; and larger regional projects. Some of the funds would go to SLOCOG, while others will go to the county and each city for specific discretionary uses.

The measure circulated through SLOCOG, the county, and area cities over the last several months, where local jurisdictions gave their input. Every city voted to participate in the tax measure, and the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on July 12 for the county’s unincorporated areas to participate.

On July 13, the SLOCOG board of directors voted to move forward with the plan, and the supervisors will make a final determination July 19 on whether to place the measure on the ballot.

The measure’s supporters have pointed to dwindling funds allocated from the state for transportation projects. That has been the result in both a decline in revenues generated from the fuel tax and a new allocation formula. The solution, they say, is a locally generated and locally controlled revenue source.

“We must take local control and help ourselves, because we have been betrayed by Sacramento,” said Jorge Aguilar, an engineer at The Wallace Group.

There has been some pushback, including from both 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton and 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who say that an additional tax is the wrong way to solve local transportation challenges.

They’ve been joined by two vocal conservative groups, the Central Coast Taxpayers Association and Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB). Core members of both groups bombarded public comment at the July 12 supervisors’ meeting with sharp critiques of the measure. A couple of speakers asked why the board could find money for homeless services and affordable housing programs but not for transportation. Others didn’t trust the goals for a new tax.

“We’re not going to get this money back,” said Leslie Halls, executive director of the SLO County Builders Exchange.

Third District Supervisor Adam Hill said that the tax would stimulate the local economy during a period with widespread worry surrounding the economic losses from Diablo Canyon’s closure and wondered why more industry representatives weren’t showing support for the measure.

“Infrastructure will mean jobs; infrastructure will mean housing; infrastructure will mean improved roads and traffic mitigations, and these are arguments that people don’t even want to discuss,” Hill said. “It’s naïve or worse to think that somehow by not wanting to pass a self-help tax that this is going to send some kind of message to Sacramento that they’ll receive.” 

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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