Economy a Challenge for Sales Tax Measure

Salinas, CA – In her office at the Transportation Agency of Monterey County, Executive Director Debra Hale unfolds a glossy pamphlet on a conference table. It's TAMC's 2007 Annual Report and inside there's a map highlighting projects for the future. "There are two projects that we hear the most about. First one is 101 at the Red Barn everybody knows this project, even outside of the area you say 101 at the Red Barn and they say, 'oh yeah, that traffic is really bad there'. And the next one that we hear about from folks within the county is Highway 68, 'what are you going to do about highway 68,'" said Hale.

What TAMC wants to do about Highway 68 is reduce traffic by improving intersections or adding lanes that help drivers get on and off the highway. It's just one of several planned safety and congestion relief projects highlighted on the map. It also shows plans to increase public transportation, construct new trails and create a pool of funds for local road maintenance. "You know, right now, one of the big questions that we're getting is how does this fit in with the economic times?," said Hale. That's because the top of the pamphlet reads, "These projects have little chance of being built without a new source of funds."

Those funds would come from Measure Z , a 25 year half-cent sales tax increase on the November 4th ballot. It would raise nearly $1-billion for transportation improvements in Monterey County. A half-cent sales tax increase would raise the tax to 7.75% countywide and higher in some cities.

Mike Weaver is with the Vote No on Measure Z Committee which has the support of the Salinas Valley Taxpayers Union, Highway 68 Coalition and a handful of other groups. "You need to crawl before you walk, you need to walk before you run. Come up with something short, specific, something that builds credibility, something the public can see, something the public can get behind. And then if that works, then let's go for some more," said Weaver.

In addition to having a problem with the length of the proposed tax, Weaver says that with all the improvements, 25 years of use will leave area roads no better off than they are today. And though he's has with a laundry list of reasons for people to vote no, it seems the economy is making light work for his campaign. "I don't know anybody that thinks this is a good idea in these tough economic times. People are losing jobs, grocery prices are up, everything is up. People have trouble paying their rent. These are tough times and they so oh it isn't that much extra but every little bit counts," said Weaver.

Before the economic meltdown, TAMC officials felt they had done everything right. After a similar sales tax measure failed two years ago, they sought input from a cross section of the community. In the end they garnered support from all the County Supervisors, City Councils and other groups including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. That's where the Yes on Z campaign held a press conference in the final days before the Election and where supporters said the economy is a concern. So they're pitching it as more than a sales tax.

Supporter Sam Teel with the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association said, "Actually, I think it's a very positive thing for the economy because this is going to generate about 30,000 jobs, infrastructure jobs. If you think back about the great depression about how we got out of it, we did public works. We hired a lot of people, put them to work and we generated a lot of economic activity. The same thing could happen here in Monterey County." The 30,000 jobs is a number they get from the Federal Highway Administration based on the planned investment into area roads. But right now, the only number that really matters to the Yes Campaign, is the 2/3 majority vote needed to pass Measure Z.