For local transportation officials, Measure M has been a lifeline. The quarter-cent sales tax that voters passed in 2004 has been essential to attracting state and federal funding to repair roads and widen Highway 101 through Sonoma County, they say.
But officials acknowledge that, four years before it is set to expire, future revenue from Measure M has already been spoken for and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority is asking voters to extend the quarter-cent sales tax for another 20 years.
The renewal, on the November ballot as Measure DD, would change the expenditure plan to reflect new priorities. The original sales tax allocated 40% of the revenue to widen Highway 101, which is expected to be complete with the final Petaluma segment wrapping up in 2022.
Measure DD would allocate 35% of the annual estimated $26 million toward measures that fight climate change like bus service and bike and pedestrian paths. The other 65% would go to fixing roads and improving the transportation network in Sonoma County.
Petaluma would get a cut of those funds, according to the expenditure plan. Under a formula that divvies up the money among Sonoma County and its nine cities, Petaluma would receive nearly $1 million annually to fix the streets that are ranked the worst in the Bay Area.
“It will keep road repairs going,” said Kathy Miller, a Petaluma city councilwoman and SCTA representative. “It’s also an economic stimulator. The more people we can put to work (on road projects) the better.”
Besides filling in potholes, the measure would provide funding for big ticket items such as a bridge over the Petaluma River at Caulfield Lane, she said.
“You get big projects that people notice,” she said. “You also get little projects that are important to people in those neighborhoods.”
The measure, like most proposals that would raise taxes, does have detractors. A coalition of Sonoma County business, labor and agriculture groups has called for a moratorium on all taxes in the county until the coronavirus pandemic is over. With the economy in a recession, it is not time to ask voters for more money, the coalition says.
“The pandemic and recession have caused record high unemployment, and tens of thousands of Sonoma County residents can barely pay their monthly living expenses,” according to the website of the group 2020 Sonoma County Tax Moratorium Coalition. “We have to live within our means and so should local government. They need to tighten their belt, adjust their spending like the rest of us have to do, and not ask for more taxes this year.”
But, tellingly, the Sonoma County Taxpayer’s Association has declined to take a position on the tax. The group’s neutral stance is due to the fact that the SCTA has adeptly managed the original tax funds, said Dan Drummond, the executive director of the taxpayer group.
“The SCTA has done a really good job at managing this money,” he said. “They’ve done what they said they would do and have been very effective in leveraging dollars.”
Drummond did object to calling the tax an “extension,” saying that the spending priorities have changed.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, who also sits on the country transportation authority, said the sales tax is important because it makes Sonoma County a so-called self-help county, meaning a jurisdiction that has funds to match state and federal transportation grants.
“Of all the local tax measures, it’s the one we can’t afford to go without,” Rabbitt said. “There is no other measure out there that can leverage those dollars.”
(Contact Matt Brown at [email protected])