Sunday, October 31, 2004


Forget the tax: Measure M's a BOND measure

Sonoma County Measure M has been peddled as a sales tax measure that will "Get Sonoma County Moving". But it's not a sales tax measure. What it is, is a BOND measure!

Measure M was drafted to implement a two-part plan. The first part is a "TRANSPORTATION VISION"--essentially a wish list of proposed Countywide transportation improvements, beginning with the continued widening of Highway 101. The second part is a scheme to fund those proposed improvements.

John McHugh, chair of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Transportation Sub-Committee, summed it all up in a letter in today's Press Democrat (10/31, "Get moving"). He wrote,

"Both the state and the federal governments seem to have turned their backs on transportation funding. That's why 'self-help' is so important. The Measure M expenditure plan authorizes the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to issue bonds to fund projects in the plan. That's how we are going to leverage our local tax dollars."

There's been a lot of loose talk about "leveraging" the proceeds of a sales tax surcharge, and both the County Counsel and County Auditor have contributed some. County Counsel Steven Woodside's "IMPARTIAL ANALYSIS OF MEASURE M" in the Voter's Pamphlet includes that,

"The revenue raised from the tax would be committed to funding the following improvements and goals: ...

3) Use local revenue to become a 'self-help' county and leverage state and federal funding for transportation needs."

His uncritical analysis doesn't say whether that goal is reasonable, or whether it is attainable at all.

County Auditor Rod Dole's "FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT" repeats the same list and comments,

"The total transportation improvement expenditures would equal the estimated revenue above ["approximately $17 million to $30 million"]. However, the transportation improvement expenditures could be in excess of the estimated revenues because the Sonoma County Transportation Authority's able to use this local revenue to obtain additional state and federal funding."

And the "ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF MEASURE M" promises to double the tax money:

"M = matching funds: Measure M willl double our money with matching funds from the state and federal governments. That's our money! And Measure M gets us our share!"

But the "REBUTTAL" to that argument is far more honest and realistic:

"We consider this to be a lie intended to deceive the voting public. If measure M would generate $470 million over twenty years, we know of no law that would require either the state or federal government to provide Sonoma County with an extra $470 million to match it. Proponents themselves tell us that any proposition M money that would be used for local road maintenance would not be matched by the state since the state does not match local road maintenance expenditures."

The little letter from McHugh of the Chamber is far more honest than the glowing promises in the VOTER'S PAMPHLET. He says that if passed, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority would "leverage" the new 1/4-cent sales tax surcharge by selling bonds.

The tax surcharge is estimated to raise $470 million (in 2004 dollars) over the 20-year life of the tax. The plan calls for spending an estimated $465 million: 40% on Highway 101, 40% on local streets and roads, and 19% on transit, rail, and bikes. The other 1% (rounded up to $5 million) would go for administration, management, and audits.

The estimated total $470 million averages $23.5 million a year. Auditor Dole says he estimates the actual annual amount might be "$17 million to $30 million". Section 14 of Measure M ("ESTABLISHMENT OF APPROPRIATIONS LIMIT") sets the SCTA appropriations limit for fiscal year 2004/05 at $30 million, subject to amendment.

If Measure M passes, Section 16 authorizes the SCTA to sell "from time to time" up to $470 million worth of bonds, to finance "any program or project in the Plan". Measure M is a BOND plan, to pay for the SCTA's Countywide wish list.

And that's all there is to that.

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