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May 22nd
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Town Hall with Supervisor Ellen Pirie

ellen pirie2You have voiced disappointment that the county’s $10 road tax did not make it onto the November ballot. Why did you hope it would go to a vote, and what do you believe the impact will be now that such a tax is postponed indefinitely?

The vote of the [Santa Cruz County] Regional Transportation Commission not to put the $10 vehicle fee on the ballot in November was a very close vote. Five commissioners wanted to put it on the ballot but six did not believe it was the right thing to do.

I voted to put it on the ballot because our roads are deteriorating and the cities and county do not have the money to fix them and also meet all our other responsibilities. Local governments are in a situation where there is simply not enough money in their coffers to keep up with the needs and perform the services mandated by the state and federal governments.  When local governments fail to meet their responsibilities, they leave themselves vulnerable to lawsuits and penalties. And of course when local governments lose lawsuits and other claims, payment comes from local taxes and other funds that could have been used to meet local needs.

Those of us who drive cars or ride bikes on county roads know that many of them are in bad shape. I often hear from constituents who are unhappy about the condition of a particular road. I think that most people understand that the local governments need more money that is reserved for the repair and maintenance of local streets and roads. They would like to be given the opportunity to vote on whether to raise taxes for that purpose. I also would have liked to give the public the opportunity to vote on this issue.

However, I also understand the reasoning of those commissioners who voted against putting the issue on the ballot. First, it would cost in the neighborhood of $200,000 to put it on the ballot. That would have to be paid with Regional Transportation Commission public funds whether it passed or not. 

And second, ballot measures usually require a campaign in support of the measure. The public agencies like the RTC and the county cannot use public money to advocate for or against a ballot measure. Therefore a private party or group would have to financially support such a campaign. There didn’t seem to be any such person or group willing to do that, and anti-tax groups, such as the Senior Coalition, threatened to oppose it.

Even without such a campaign I would have supported giving the public the opportunity to vote on the issue. The amount was so small ($10 per registered vehicle) that I think it is likely that it would have passed without much of a campaign.
The only drawback that I saw was the possibility of people expecting more for that $10 a year than could actually be delivered. The fee would have raised approximately $2 million a year—all of it, except minimal administrative costs, dedicated to road repair. That sounds like a lot of money but roadwork is very expensive. The county needs roughly $100 million to bring all its roads and bridges into good condition. 

Comments (2)Add Comment
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written by Don Honda, August 24, 2012
The particular initiative promoted by our local RTC gives a wide variance for those agencies receiving these funds to not use any of the funds for road maintenance, but as they see fit. Thus, at least 20% of this collected fee would not have gone towards road maintenance with the possibility that 100% of the collected fees would have be used for non-road maintenance projects. The language was vague and open-ended as to the purpose of the monies charged.
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written by Don Honda, August 24, 2012
Ellen Pirie's statement is a bit misleading.

The $10 DMV proposed initiative was based on SB 83 (2009). It stipulates that not more than 5% be used for administrative costs. However, this 5% does not include the cost of initial programming and set-up costs which must be borne by the county. Also, it stipulates that at LEAST 15% of fees collected be used for NON-road maintenance projects: pedestrian, disabled, and cycling improvements.

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