I am very concerned about Measure M. I realize the ballot measure will not be voted on until November, 2020. I have reported on who is on the ad hoc committee (Bagbee, Landman, Gurney, Gorin, Rogers and Rabbitt) that has been doing the polling and deciding on how to write the legislation to go before the voters. Rabbitt, has consistently demonstrated a commitment to “fix” our roads on a consistent basis. I wrote about this ad hoc committee in the weekly ECA Newsletter on August 29, 2019 and said we would be tracking the efforts of the ad hoc committee and their polling efforts. I was concerned then, and now I am in crisis mode. Why? Because I think the ad hoc committee has made a mistake with the Measure M sales tax extension to such an extent that several of our groups that are traditionally friendly to transportation issues will either not support the Measure M tax extension in its current form, or will actively oppose it. That opposition, if it occurs, would effectively kill the effort to extend the much-needed Measure M sales tax extension.
Measure M was passed in 2004 and it is a ¼ cent sales tax measure that provides 80% of the tax revenue for Highway 101 projects (40%), Local Road Rehabilitation -LSR (20%), Local Streets Projects – LSP (20%), Local Bus Transit – LBT (10%), SMART 5%, and Bike Ped Projects (4%).
Now that Highway 101 is completely funded in Sonoma County, the need for 40% of the tax revenue going to Highway 101 widening is no longer needed. Also, since SMART is now up and running, the 5% allocated to help SMART get built, is no longer needed either. That creates a choice for the ad hoc committee as to what to do with the 45% of each tax dollar that can now be applied to accelerating repairs to our battered roads, or, to something else.
It is the “something else” that the ad hoc committee is choosing that is so frustrating to me. It is unbelievable to me how much influence certain special interest groups have on deciding where our tax monies should go. If you were to list your priorities as to where the “new and improved” Measure M funds should go, I would suggest most of us would agree on these priorities:
#1 Fix our local roads. This is my top priority. This is, I believe, the best way to apply sales tax revenue for a sales tax that was designed to help our local Cities and Sonoma County get more funding to fix the 1384 miles of roads that exist in Sonoma County.
#2 Put some dollars into new improvements and infrastructure that eases traffic flow. This could be better signalization systems, improvements to our movement of goods (perhaps more movement of trucking goods at night, rather than during the day), and incentivizing bigger companies to modify their business hours in order to lessen the number of workers on the road during traditional rush hour periods. Maybe some big companies have a work week that runs Tuesday through Friday while others have a Monday thru Thursday schedule. There are lots of things that could be done to encourage telecommuting of workers so they can work from home one or more days a week rather than travel into the office every day.
#3. Do projects and improvements that enhance safety of our roads and bridges.
There is no number 4, 5 or 6 that is critical to me and I suspect there is no number 4, 5 or 6 that is critical to the majority of taxpayers in Sonoma County.
So, what is the ad hoc committee proposing? Their priorities are more like this:
- A)More dollars for bus transit
- B)More dollars for bike and pedestrian pathways
- C)More dollars for policies and projects that reduce climate change impacts
- D)Fix local roads
- E)Provide infrastructure that smooths the way for infill high density housing to be constructed
Hmmm. What we have here is a failure to communicate folks. Not once, did the ad hoc committee reach out to the ECA, the NCBE, the Sonoma County Alliance, the Farm Bureau, or the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, or SOS for their opinion on how to structure Measure M until March 4, 2020. Despite input from the Sonoma County Transportation Authority Citizens Oversight Committee, the ad hoc committee largely ignored all business related organizations, ignored their own Citizens Committee that has followed Measure M expenditures from day one, and ignored (in my humble opinion) the hugely important reality that most folks want our roads fixed, not more bus transit.
On Wednesday, the ad hoc committee invited a few lucky folks to a small meeting to discuss the proposed “Strawman” split of Measure M tax monies. A “strawman” proposal is a draft proposal intended to generate discussions in the hopes that a better proposal is arrived at by virtue of those discussions.
The most recent polling shows taxpayers have the highest approval rate (83%) for any category of funding for fixing the pavement of local roads. City Managers tell the pollsters their greatest need is additional money to fix their local streets and roads.
With the polling results, and the lack of reaching out to the ECA and other “Business Oriented” Associations, it makes me wonder where the ad hoc committee got their feedback/influence to propose these new tax split percentages:
Raise bus and transit from 10% to 18%, increase bike and pedestrian pathways from 4% to 11%, allocate 25% to a category labeled “connected communities” funding which includes housing/access to transit and infrastructure improvements not well defined, and only authorize 40% for application to fixing local roads.
Recently, my favorite columnist of all time, Dan Walters, wrote a piece that appeared in the Press Democrat about how the billions of dollars the State of California is spending on “climate change” efforts are falling flat with taxpayers. Two executive orders by former Governor Jerry Brown set the goal for electric vehicles at 1.5 million “on the road” by 2025 and 5 million by 2030 (5 million represents 20% of the cars on the road in California). Ten years after the goals were set, and with 10 years left until 2030, we are at 13.4% of our stated goal when you count hybrids and electric vehicles. True zero emission vehicles are at a paltry 7.6% after 10 years of the goal. Sales are not increasing, but rather decreasing as 2019 sales dropped a full 2% over 2018 sales figures.
Transit only accounts for 10% of all California transportation, and that figure is declining. Despite adding 530 miles of commuter train lines in Southern California, ridership has steadily declined since the peak ridership in 1985. To see the article I am using to quote these figures, click here
Public transit has been falling in California since 2014 according to a UCLA report issued just last week. BART has seen a loss of 10 million night and weekend passengers in the last four years.
These trends create a rather strange confluence. According to the Embarcadero Institute, a Bay Area think tank, as California transit systems expanded service, they increased their spending from $10.4 billion in 2014 to $12.3 billion in 2018 — most of it from taxpayers, not riders — but their ridership declined from 1.5 billion passengers to 1.3 billion during that same period.
With the voters speaking loudly and clearly as to the Measure I tax extension for the SMART train, are our leaders not hearing the voters outcry no “No way” when they keep trying to appeal to our sense of morality to curb carbon emissions by taxing us? I think the ad hoc committee for Measure M is afraid of opposition from bike riders and bus riders. In order to appease those folks, they are floating their proposal to jack up spending so those groups will not oppose Measure M. However, by doing this, and not asking the pro-business organizations their opinion (or simply ignoring our opinions), the ad hoc committee risks pissing off those folks that should be most in favor of extending a sales tax to fix our roads-US!
Does anybody really think that we should be doubling the expenditures on bus transit? When I look at the buses around town, I sure do not see them in an overcrowded state. I love walking and bike riding. But I do not want our roads to wait while we build more bike paths that are “wanted” but not needed.
The ECA will probably support a Measure M sales tax extension. Whether it has 80% being applied to fixing roads or only 40% to fixing roads, it is in our best interest to support it. However, we risk losing big at the polls if the 83% of the voters are not listened to for fear of pissing off some bike riders and bus advocates. What the ad hoc committee should be doing is catering to the 83% who want to fix our roads.
I want to extend Measure M to fix roads, not to add bus routes.
What about you? How do you feel about it? Do you want to keep paying a sales tax to have more empty buses or to fill more potholes?
That’s All Folks