Sacramento Transportation Authority to move sales tax hike forward, but problems lie ahead

California Highways ( County Routes "E"
The proposed Southeast Connector Road in southeastern Sacramento County. | 

On Thursday afternoon, the Sacramento Transporation Authority board of directors voted to tentatively adopt an ordinance for a countywide sales tax hike. Even though it was passed, five directors voted against, and animosity was on display among directors.

The STA, which is a multi-jurisdictional agency that distributes transportation funds within Sacramento County, is currently seeking to place a measure on the November ballot to increases sales taxes by one half of a percent for 40 years. If approved by two-thirds of Sacramento County voters, the sales taxes are forecasted to raise over $8 billion during the duration of the tax for a variety of transportation projects.

While the approved ordinance will be formally adopted at their May meeting, several directors already said they would not support the tax increase. Their reasons were varied, but not surprisingly, the expenditure plan for the tax revenues lies at the core of the conflict and represents tensions between urban and suburban directors.

Urban directors such as Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna and Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hanson have pushed for increased mass transit funding and compliance to air quality attainment goals. Suburban directors like Rancho Cordova City Councilmember Garrett Gatewood and Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost have advocated for greater spending on projects like the Southeast Connector road that will connect Elk Grove to Folsom.

Complicating matters at Thursday's meeting was language in the expenditure plans that could divert funding from projects like the Southeast Connector road should the region not attain air quality standards. This language seemingly irritated Elk Grove City Councilmember Pat Hume, a long time advocate for the Southeast Connector project, who was one of the five no votes.

"I think there is nebulous language that is being baked in forever," Hume said.

Arguing for the language in the plan was Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg who said he negotiated with stakeholder groups who were interested in air quality goals and increased alternative transit methods. Steinberg said the STA expenditure plan would be consistent with the region's unanimously adopted climate plan.

"It is less about expenditure, as it is about the policy that is throughout the life of the plan, that no matter how it changes, it should be consistent with our climate goals," he said. "It is consistent with what we negotiated in good faith over the last couple of months, and I am prepared to go all-in and support this ordinance and it is consistent with what we did last time." 

Joining Hume in voting no was Gatewood, who has repeatedly expressed skepticism in the expenditure plan. Gatewood has argued at several STA meetings Rancho Cordova residents would pay more in taxes than they would receive and that it does not adequately fund the Southeast Connector, which also could relieve traffic congestions in his city noting the sudden onset of the recession which he claimed caused massive job losses for constituents. 

At today's meeting, Gatewood said it was inappropriate at this time to ask taxpayers for more money and would not support efforts to pass the tax hike which is dubbed Measure A.

"I really want to be able to vote for a measure like this right now, but my citizens' have 20,000 people who have lost their jobs, and I just am feeling heartbroken that I can't help with this," Gatewood said. "But at this point, the representative for Rancho can't start voting for a measure that is going to put a half-cent sales tax raise anything on any of my citizens right now."

When the STA attempted a sales tax increase in 2016, there was more unanimity among the then directors over the expenditure plan. Even though the STA board of directors was united in their support, the measure was narrowly defeated by voters in a healthier economy. 

Hume's vote against the matter today could be an indication that housing developers may not support passage as they did in 2016. That year they paid for most of the Yes campaign, but with uncertain future funding for the Southeast Connector road, which they support, they may be unwilling to finance a Yes on Measure A this year.  

In a separate matter, on Wednesday night Elk Grove City Council meeting, the expenditure plan was unanimously approved. The final decision if the Measure is placed the November ballot will be made by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in July. 
Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.



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