Monday, December 19, 2005

Poll Encouraging for Tax Advocates

Poll Encouraging for Tax Advocates
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

In a recent poll, 74 percent of Solano County voters think improving the Interstate 80/I-680 interchange is a top priority. (Brad Zweerink/Reporter file)
The county's transportation advocates, business leaders and political community have harnessed their strength over the last four years in an attempt to pass a tax that would raise millions for local transportation projects during the next three decades.

They've been defeated twice and stymied once. A transportation measure headed for last month's ballot was pulled after Fairfield proposed its own sales tax proposal, which failed.

But there's been a positive side to all the failure, officials say. Voters are now keenly aware of the effort to pass the tax, which is a good sign.

Solano Transportation Improvement Authority officials made their intentions clear this week that a third proposal for a countywide sales tax is now in motion.

And as the push toward the half-cent sales tax begins, a recent poll funded by private-sector businesses shows that an encouraging 73 percent of the county's voters are aware of the effort, officials say.

"It's a lot higher. That's probably logical since we've gone out (to the ballot) twice," said Daryl Halls, executive director of the STA. "In '05, we didn't go to the ballot, but we did a lot of public outreach."

The poll results surrounding a third crack at a transportation tax, released this week, are not earth-shattering statistics, but show some interesting trends.

When 600 local voters who were polled in the survey were asked directly whether they would support a new tax, 67 percent responded that they would, with 27 percent saying the would oppose it and 6 percent had no opinion.

Sounds like a landslide in favor. But to meet the super-majority requirement of a local sales tax, the poll numbers suggest that a tax, if voted on now, would beat the 66.7 percent needed by only a razor-thin margin.

The poll numbers could show a slight uptick in support and no decrease. That's encouraging, officials say. The poll figure is in line with the 64 percent of voters who approved the last transportation tax.

"It looks like the vast majority would support it, but it's not overwhelming," Halls said.

Other points hit on in the poll:

• 81 percent of voters said money for buses and trains should be a part of the expenditure plan

• 74 percent of voters rank making improvements to dangerous intersections and roads a top priority, supplanting the Interstate 80/I-680 interchange as the county voters' top concern

• 72 percent of voters think that growth-control policies, a major source of controversy in past tax measures for transportation, should be addressed in a separate measure

The completion of the voter poll signals that the well-worn process for creating a sales tax will begin in earnest again in January.

The Solano Transportation Improvement Authority, assembled to guide the proposal, directed transportation officials to begin drafting a transportation expenditure plan at the beginning of the year that could be ready as early as February.

The list of projects will likely resemble projects included on former taxes, such as the I-80/I-680 interchange and other projects like improving local streets and roads, which continues to poll well with voters.

Transportation officials will then have the option of putting the tax on either the June or November ballots.

The June election could have the highest voter turnout of the two, considering that Democrat contestants could face off then to challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the November general election, officials say.

There could also be subtle strategy in picking between the two elections. The last tax measure needed just thousands of votes in 2004 to cross the super majority threshold.

Every vote will count this time around, too. Supervisor John Vasquez said the county's consultant for the transportation tax might recommend putting the tax on the June primary ballot.

"The idea is that Democrats are more likely to support a tax increase," he said.

Jason Massad can be reached at

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