SLO County Supervisors endorse sales tax hike
April 20, 2016
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has given initial support toward placing a countywide half-cent sales tax on the November ballot. The tax initiative is intended to fund transportation projects and reduce traffic congestion.
On Tuesday, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to instruct the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) to make preparations for the sales tax initiative. Supervisors Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Frank Mecham voted in favor of placing the tax on the ballot, while supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton cast the dissenting votes.
The tax proposal would last nine years and raise approximately $25 million annually. Two thirds of voters would have to support the initiative in order for it to pass.
Proponents of the tax have said state and federal transportation funding has decreased significantly in recent years. SLOCOG officials say the agency is at a fiscal cliff because of low gas prices and the increasing popularity of fuel-efficient cars.
Supervisor Arnold voted against the tax noting Caltrans has been under fire for financial mismanagement and poor budgeting. California generates among the highest revenues for roads, though it has some of the nation’s worst road conditions.
An audit last year by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Caltrans was overstaffed by roughly 3,500 employees at a cost of about $500 million a year.
If the tax were to pass, the revenue would go toward widening roads, but also fixing potholes, improving bridge safety and improving bike paths, like the Bob Jones trail. Local officials may use some of the funds in attempt to reduce traffic on Highway 101 at the Shell Beach Straights.
All seven cities in the county already have half-cent sales taxes in place. A large portion of the funds raised from those taxes are supposed to go toward infrastructure improvements.
Arnold has said the county finished last year with a budget surplus, and it should spend some of the extra funds on road improvements instead of raising the sales tax.
If the countywide tax were to pass, the sales tax rate would increase to 8 percent in unincorporated areas and 8.5 percent in the cities.