County considering tax measure for road maintenance and repairs

Transportation has been one of the core areas of focus for SCCBC because the quality of local roads and highways, as well as traffic flow, have a significant impact on commerce. As part of our work we have been meeting regularly with Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) staff to provide input on a potential county wide sales tax measure, which could come before voters in 2016. However, as this process continues, the Board of Supervisors is also exploring other potential funding options for our ailing County roads. This includes the potential for a sales tax measure of their own, which would only apply to maintaining and repairing roads within the unincorporated area. Any sales tax measure initiated by the County would not be applied to Highway 1, municipal road ways, Metro service expansion, or the rail trail bike path and/or train service. It is also unlikely that both measures would come before voters within a two year span.

In September, a poll was conducted of 400 likely voters living within the unincorporated areas, providing for a relatively accurate assessment of attitudes and values. The results, while generally positive, do showcase some potential areas of concern. For instance, while 72 percent of those surveyed stated that there was “some” to “great” need for more local funding for local roads, less than two thirds supported any of the tax options, which included quarter cent and half cent increases. The option with the highest potential for passage was a quarter cent tax, after respondents were prompted with additional information, with 64 percent in favor. Any new tax would have to be approved by at least 66 percent of all voters. Furthermore, when asked whether they would be likely to support a “permanent tax” increase (i.e. one with no ending date) 56 percent of those surveyed stated that they would be against such a measure. When those that answered were asked why they would be unsupportive, the most frequently given answers related to general mistrust of government and the belief that taxes are already too high.

These numbers are not necessarily representative of the potential voting pool expected for a county wide measure, as they do not include the roughly 140,000 people who live within the cities. That said, the results are interesting and the responses collected should be used to inform future polling efforts with regards to voter values and messaging.

Complete polling results

Contributed by Robert Singleton, Policy Analyst