Fissures appear between Sacramento Transportation Authority directors over proposed sales tax Measure A

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost saying the STA board of directors are not always trusted by her constituents. | 

UPDATED 3:30 p.m. | 

As board members of the Sacramento Transporation Authority contemplate hurdles in obtaining two-thirds voter approval of a possible countywide sales tax increase dubbed Measure A to fund various transit projects, perhaps the more significant challenge they face is uniting their disparate interests into a coherent message for voters this November.

That lack of unity among the 16 board members from various jurisdictions in Sacramento County was evident at yesterday's monthly meeting of the STA at the Sacramento County administration building. The divisions split along suburban interests from Elk Grove, Folsom, and Rancho Cordova and urban priorities from Sacramento.

The suburban representatives, including Elk Grove City Council members Pat Hume and Darren Suen, have long expressed support and enhanced funding for projects like the Southeast Connector road. Conversely, Sacramento city interests like Sacramento City Council member Steve Hanson and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna expressed support for increased mass transit funding and those types of projects that supported environmental issues like congestion relief and reduction of greenhouse gases.

Before the STA board started their sometimes pointed deliberation, they heard from over three dozen speakers. The overwhelming majority of speakers expressed support for funding that would satisfy things like improving air quality standards, expanded mass transit services through Sacramento Regional Transit, and enhanced services for populations like students and senior citizens that do not drive or own vehicles.

Seizing on that idea was Julia Randolph of the Coalition for Clean Air who argued building more roads encourages more driving that contributes to worsening air quality in an area that has the fifth-worst air pollution in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. Randolph also noted the proposed half-cent sales tax increase is paid by everyone, not just motorists.

"This is a sales tax measure which will be paid for everyone whether they have a car or not," she said. "Our low-income population often do not own cars but are harmed the most by the negative health effects in the transportation sector. The plan needs to be equitable and accessible for all our residents."

Advocating for enhanced funding for road construction projects was Rancho Cordova City Council member Garrett Gatewood. In addition to seeking more funding from the proposed 40-year sales tax that would jumpstart coveted suburban projects like the Southeast Connector, Gatewood complained Rancho Cordova residents would be paying more in sales taxes than they would receive in funding.

"My citizens aren't accepting of this proposal how it is at all," Gatewood said. "If we give $8.5 million and only $3 million comes back to us, it is not acceptable in Rancho Cordova."

Gatewood went on to say that calculus would make more sense for Rancho Cordova to have its own sales tax measure and keep all the additional tax revenue in their city. He added that he did not feel the proposed funding allocations, as it stands now, would be able to generate enough support to reach the required two-thirds majority for passage.

"There is no way this going to pass," Gatewood concluded. 

Striking a different note was Serna, who reflected many of the sentiments expressed during the hour-long public testimony that called for projects that improved air quality and provided a more comprehensive array of transit services beyond just motorists. Serna said the old way of addressing transit needs like more new road construction had not addressed environmental and health issues. 

"It has to be a bold plan, it can not be timid," Serna said. "It is not just about transportation; it is about public health; it is about air quality."

A review of the current proposed funding allocation indicates the warring sides are involved in a semantics battle over how to define traffic congestion relief. Suburban directors like Hume, Suen and Gatewood seemingly argue projects like the Southeast Connector define congestion relief while urban directors like Serna and Hanson assert mass transit is the route toward improving countywide transit. 

During a lengthy discussion with county staff and counsel during their deliberations, Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost asked how funding allocations could be altered in the future. Counsel advised that the STA board could change funding formulas in the future.

Frost, who represents the more conservative District 4, expressed concern about the ease of changing allocations. She said that taxpayers' groups in her constituency would not support a measure that can easily be changed by the STA board.

"This is the kind of thing that causes taxpayers to not trust us," Frost said.

Kat Gray, a member of SMART -  Sacramento Metro Advocates for Rail and Transit. said after the meeting that she felt some of the STA directors are taking a business as usual stance regarding countywide transit needs. She suggested a more progressive stance was needed to improve environmental conditions.

"Several of the members just want to proceed with the business of approving funding for transportation projects with minimal big-picture considerations for the environmental impacts of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) or Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions for such projects," Gray said. "These members simply pass the environmental impact responsibility on to each individual project itself, absolving themselves and the STA of any accountability for the collective environmental impacts of the system they are funding and creating."

The STA board will decide by its March meeting on both a proposed funding plan and if they will place it on the November ballot.

UPDATED to included comments from Kat Gray of SMART.

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.


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