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Sacramento County Will Likely Vote on $8.5B Transit Tax

If voters approve the measure in November, it would raise county sales tax by one-half of 1 percent for 40 years and fund dozens of transportation projects. But critics are concerned that it could risk the region’s climate goals.

(TNS) — Sacramento, Calif.-area power brokers have agreed to a compromise over the details of a proposed $8.5 billion transportation tax, coalescing key political support behind a measure that appears headed for the November ballot.

If approved, the tax would fund dozens of transportation projects in Sacramento County, from freeway interchange improvements to the Capital Southeast Connector expressway proposed to connect Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Folsom. Also in the proposed funding plan are a Regional Transit light rail extension to Sacramento International Airport, maintenance of the American River Parkway and new bridges across the Sacramento and American rivers.

The proponents of the tax announced last week that they had filed more than 75,000 signatures with Sacramento County to place a measure on the November ballot. If the measure qualifies for the ballot and receives at least 50 percent approval from voters, it would raise the county sales tax by one half of 1 percent for the next 40 years to fund road improvements, new bridges and an expansion of the county’s mass transit systems.

Some local leaders had expressed concern in recent weeks that parts of the measure’s funding formula – particularly money for new roads – would threaten the region’s ability to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. That in turn could jeopardize critical state funding for transportation and housing.

Led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, local leaders negotiated a compromise with the tax measure proponents that will give the Sacramento Area Council of Governments the authority to analyze the climate impacts of projects funded by the tax. SACOG will also have the power to recommend how to mitigate the greenhouse gas impacts of those projects.

SACOG is the region’s main planning organization, with elected leaders from several local governments on its board. Among its key focuses are transportation planning, yet the organization was not directly involved in the measure until now.

The agreement also would set aside $100 million in funding from the city of Sacramento’s share of the tax revenue for a California Mobility Center, a proposed research center in the city that would focus on transportation technology and attracting transit startup businesses. And, with inflation on the rise, the tax could generate around $500 million more in revenue than currently projected. The agreement stipulates that extra money “may be needed primarily for GHG (greenhouse gas) mitigation efforts,” according to a SACOG staff report.

The SACOG board of directors is scheduled to vote on the agreement at a Thursday meeting and is expected to approve the deal.

Steinberg said he planned to oppose the tax measure if the agreement had not been reached. He said he will support the measure “now that SACOG has a real seat at the table.” As a state senator, Steinberg authored Senate Bill 375, which makes sure city and county governments have a say in regional plans to combat climate change.

“(The tax measure agreement will) reduce congestion, create jobs and ensure we are meeting our aggressive climate goals,” Steinberg said.

Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs and a co-chair of the tax measure campaign, said the deal is “a very significant agreement both politically and policy-wise.”

“It brings all the major stakeholders together and lays out a path forward for transportation projects that mitigates their impacts while also giving assurances that the voter-approved expenditure plan will be honored,” he said.

The proposed measure is nearly identical to a 2016 sales tax measure that was narrowly defeated. Local taxpayer groups such as the Sacramento Taxpayers Association and Eye on Sacramento opposed that measure.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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