Vote Yes on Measure A
Voters Should Approve a "Trust but Verify" Tax
Craig S. Harrison and Michael Troy
Save Our Sonoma Roads
The condition of many of Sonoma County’s roads and streets is deplorable. Almost two-thirds of county roads are poor (pavement condition index 25-49, on a scale of 100) or failed (PCI below 25). Crumbling roads cost motorists $800 per year in worn or flat tires, bent rims, ruined suspensions and lousy gas mileage.
Recently county residents nominated 57 roads and streets to be named “worst” on the Road Warrior blog.
They described various roads as “meteor-blasted moonscapes;” “worse than a third world goat path;” and a journey “on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Especially bad roads had pot holes circled with spray paint and labelled “no fishing.”
Measure A, which raises the sales tax by 1/4 percent (25 cents on a $100 purchase), is an opportunity to achieve a county-wide integrated road system where the pavement, both in cities and on county roads, is in good repair. It will raise $20 million per year, over half of which will be allocated to city streets. Repairing roads today instead of letting them completely deteriorate will save money in the long-run because repairs may cost as much as ten times more if we do nothing now.
Measure A requires annual audits that show where each dollar is spent and implements the supervisors’ October 2014 Long-Term Road Plan. While revenue is needed for 20 years, requiring re-approval of the tax after five years enhances accountability. If revenue is diverted elsewhere, voters will not renew the tax. The proof will be in the pavement.
There are no practical alternatives to a sales tax increase. Our situation is a result of a perfect storm caused by a decline in the purchasing power of gas taxes by half and decades-long neglect by the county. Neither Congress nor the California legislature seems interested in increasing gas taxes to address statewide infrastructure problems. We are on our own.
For over three years SOSroads has been asking supervisors to adequately fund the restoration of our county roads. During the past three budget cycles the current supervisors have greatly increased funding and have improved 150 miles of the county’s 1,382 mile road system. Unfortunately few city councils have made similar financial commitments.
Some are concerned that the new revenue might not be spent on roads because it is a general tax that cannot be legally committed to a specific purpose. State law provides that a general tax needs only majority approval. A specific tax, which could be devoted legally to roads, needs approval by two-thirds of the voters. It is difficult to get two-thirds of Sonoma County voters to agree on anything.
We understand pension reform concerns. We support additional pension reform, but in many respects the county’s hands are tied pending statewide developments. Voter-approved pension reforms in San Jose and San Diego face expensive and lengthy court challenges. Efforts to put pension reform on a statewide ballot have been stymied. Meanwhile our roads and streets continue to deteriorate and the cost of eventually fixing them escalates. This problem is not going to disappear on its own.
If Measure A is approved, SOSroads will ask the supervisors to enter immediately into a contract with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to administer the revenue. We will monitor how funds are spent and carefully review the annual audits to ensure transparency. Ultimately if funds aren't spent on roads, SOSroads will lead the opposition to renewing the tax and will oppose any supervisor who fails to put roads first.
Measure A warrants your vote because of its “trust but verify” features.
The authors are the co-founders of Save Our Sonoma Roads, an all-volunteer organization that advocates for improved roads and streets.
This article was published as a guest opinion in the following Sonoma County newspapers:
Petaluma Argus Courier