After failing to receive enough votes in last year’s election, a newly revised countywide sales tax for Highway 101 improvements and transportation services will return to the ballot this fall.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments recently settled on the new Measure D tax at their May 17 meeting. The latest version divvies up funds evenly between the north and south of the county, with the exception of a $140 million allocation dedicated to Highway 101 improvement, SBCAG spokesman Greg Hart said. The original draft, which failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority in last November’s election, had included a quarter-cent increase to the half-cent sales tax initiated in 1989.
The rejected version had intended to use the sales tax increase for alternative transportation projects like more bus routes and a possible light rail between Goleta and Ventura. While voters in south county mostly favored last year’s version, the measure had difficulties in the county’s northern areas, thus placing the future of the half-cent sales tax in jeopardy.
Hart said he is confident the new Measure D will please both halves of county.
“This kind of ballot reflects the reality that there are different views in different parts of the county,” he said.
Hart said if the new version is approved it will raise an estimated $1 billion over the next 30 years, including the immediate allocation of $140 million to the improvement of Highway 101.
As for the remaining $960 million, the two halves of the county would split the money equally, thus allowing each region’s elected officials to determine the best uses for the funds, Hart said.
“It allows us to approach the same subject from different perspectives,” he said. “For instance, in north county they might make the decision to have the same ratio [of distribution for their own programs as before], but that ratio might be different in south county because there’s a much stronger public support for alternative transportation.”
Hart said only one version of Measure D will exist on the November ballot and it will include the separate spending plans for each half of the county.
“When it comes down to it, the ballot will be the same for the whole county, there will be one ballot argument and one description, but there will be two different expenditure plans on the ballot,” he said.
Since the county’s population is split almost equally between the north and south, Hart said he believes dividing tax dollars evenly over the two geographical locations, and concentrating first on Highway 101, is fair to all residents.
“I think we have a simple story to tell,” he said. “The 101 is the most important transportation problem in the county and that’s the project that gets the money off the top. Then splitting the dollars 50/50 reflects the population.”
The current half-cent sales tax expires in 2010.