Voters at the polls on March 5 will decide whether or not they want to continue to help smooth out California roads and highways by pumping gasoline into their vehicles.

Proposition 42, which will appear on the spring ballot, would allot approximately $1.4 billion dollars annually for statewide improvements to roads and public transportation beginning in July 2003. The money would come from an existing sales tax on gasoline and be used to improve traffic circulation, repair hazardous, uneven road surfaces, and improve general safety conditions. The bill would also double the state’s public transportation budget.

Presently, 100 percent of the money generated by the gasoline sales tax goes to roads and transportation in accordance with a $6.8 billion Traffic Congestion Relief Package signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2000. The package expires in 2006, however, and Prop 42 would make the arrangement permanent. If voters reject Prop 42 the tax money will go back to the state’s general fund.

Melody Cannon, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, said if Prop 42 passes, an estimated $4.5 million of the total money generated by the gasoline sales tax would go to fund Santa Barbara County’s roads and public transportation each year. Of those funds, 40 percent would be allotted for local road repairs, 40 percent for state capital improvements related to transportation and 20 percent for public transportation.

“That last 20 percent could also funnel down eventually to the Isla Vista area in the form of improved public transportation,” she said.

Prop 42 would not impose additional costs on Californians; motorists already pay 18 cents per gallon in taxes whenever they pump gasoline into their vehicles.

“It’s an existing tax and you’re already paying it,” Cannon said. “Prop 42 would just dedicate the money for the sole purpose of repairing the state’s roads and transportation.”

Scott McGolpin, county deputy director of transportation, said I.V. roads are in good condition because of recent work, but Prop 42 would help maintain them and repair those that still need help.

“We have a pavement condition index of about 81 for most of the roads in Isla Vista and that’s pretty good,” he said. “There are a few that still need some preventative maintenance.”

McGolpin credited the recent I.V. road repairs to gas sales tax-generated money. The most seriously damaged local roads would be repaired in Prop 42-funded projects.

“It’s the roads that are severely damaged. Severe cracking, depressions, failed areas …” McGolpin said. “Fortuna Lane is probably the worst in Isla Vista. It has a pavement condition index of 19, so work on it will probably be programmed in the not-too-distant future.”

The bill has gained wide support from voters, including Leo Soong, chair of the board of the California division of the American Automobile Association.

“Prop 42 is based on the principle that the gasoline sales tax you pay when filling up your tank ought to be used to improve our transportation system,” he said. “That’s exactly what Prop 42 does … without increasing or imposing any new taxes.”

The opposition, including the California Teachers Association and the Services Employees International Union, says that other state programs will no longer have access to money locked up in road and transportation investments.

“Opponents are concerned that transportation needs eliminate other potential uses,” Cannon said. “However, the wording of the proposition allows for the legislature to spend or modify the way the money is allotted in an emergency.”