Part II Darrell Steinberg's Regionalism - A Multi-Billion Dollar Sales Tax Ground Hogs Day loop?

As outlined in the first part of this two-edition series, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has long supported a regional sharing of sales tax revenues. While he was a California Assembly member representing Sacramento, Steinberg proposed legislation to impose a six-county sales tax sharing idea.

Steinberg's legislation made it through the Assembly but failed in the California Senate and died a quiet death. That was over 20 years ago, but as noted, what is old is new again for Steinberg.

The public got its first clue that Steinberg was resurrecting the idea during the August 10 multi-jurisdictional Sacramento Transporation board meeting. Speaking in vague terms, Sacramento city council members Eric Guerra and Caity Maples signaled support for a regional sales tax hike for transportation, infrastructure projects, and homelessness funding.

Unlike Guerra and Maples, STA board member and Sacramento County District 5 Supervisor Pat Hume was more direct. The first-term supervisor and former Elk Grove City Council member pushed back on Steinberg's idea.

Hume said any countywide sales tax hike from the STA or non-governmental group must be entirely transportation-related to get voter approval.

"I know that the mayor [Stenberg]is floating something that would muddy the waters considerably, and I think would work to potentially confuse voters," Hume said (see video below).

Hume added polling data should be trusted, saying, "If the polls say people want potholes fixed, put the measure to fix potholes."

So, what was Hume referring to when he said Steinberg could muddy the waters? The public learned of Steinberg's idea in part three of State of the City addresses on August 28.

Steinberg introduced The Climate, Clean Transportation, and Affordable Housing Act of 2024. According to Steinberg's website, the measure "would require approval from two-thirds of voters countywide, would raise an estimated $8.5 billion over 40 years." 

Additionally, as proposed by Steinberg, "a third of the funding from the new measure goes for new affordable housing and programs to help people stay in their homes. A third would go to high-priority transit projects such as Bus Rapid Transit on major corridors. Another third would go to road repairs and active transportation projects such as pedestrian crossings, bicycle lanes, and new paved trails."

So far, outside of the September 14 STA meeting and initial news stories, there has been little talk about Steinberg's proposal. However, during that same STA meeting, Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen applauded Steinberg's "creative thinking" in forming the sales tax hike  (see video below). 

"To Mayor Steinberg's credit, I think there is a lot of good ideas in there," she said.

However, given the polling data on voters' appetite for confronting another sales tax hike heard by the STA board on September 14, the idea is likely dead in 2024 and probably in 2026 for various reasons.

First, Sacramento County voters rejected nearly identical $8 billion sales hike proposals in 2016 and 2022. The 2016 measure, which required a two-thirds majority, lost by less than one percent.

Worse was the 2022 results. Because real estate and business interests placed that $8 billion sales hike on the ballot, it only required a simple majority but garnered about 45 percent of the yes vote. 

While Steinberg's proposal may sway environmental groups who were part of the coalition objecting to the 2016 and 2022 measures, will it be enough? Probably not. 

This proposal will play poorly with suburban voters. Those voters and most of their city councils typically consider any regional tax a money grab by the city of Sacramento. 

Notwithstanding Singh-Allen's implied support of the tax, suburban voters have a negative view of the city of Sacramento's leadership failure in addressing homelessness. They will view this as a reward for their failures, which would be an easy caricature for tax advocacy groups to create. 

Furthermore, many voters in unincorporated areas of Sacramento County who experience deteriorating roads are unlikely to support Steinberg's measure if it means, as Hume suggested, their potholes in Wilton or Rio Linda go unrepaired. It's hard to imagine Supervisors Hume or Sue Frost and their supporters getting on board with this. 

Regardless of whether or not you support Steinberg's regional proposal, combined with the recent polling numbers and the two sales tax hike proposal failures, it is unlikely this will be approved by voters even if it makes it to one of the two 2024 county ballots.

For Steinberg, when it comes to pushing his regional sales tax idea, it's a Ground Hogs Day loop all over again. 

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1 comment

Juan Trippe said...

When I see Etran buses on 99 or 5 during rush hour, they are empty. The park and ride RT light rail lot near Delta Shores is empty. I don't think people will all of a sudden use bus rapid transit or whatever it is called to go grocery shopping or take kids to their Saturday morning soccer games.

As for the homeless problem, where has all the money spent on the problem already gone?

Steinberg's idea is DOA.

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