Survey says Placer opposes transportation sales-tax hike

Half-percent increase finds 48 percent “strongly opposed”
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s transportation funding gap is not likely to be filled by a voter-approved sales-tax increase, the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board was told Wednesday.

A survey conducted in May showed that voters in the fiscally conservative county stuck to past scripts when asked whether they would support a tax measure to fund transportation improvement projects. The Auburn-based transportation planning agency has identified about $1 billion in what are considered needed transportation infrastructure improvements for the region over the next few years.

Improvements include expanding public transit, investing in projects to reduce global warming, extending light rail to Roseville and a general reduction in traffic congestion through several projects.

A sales-tax increase was “strongly opposed” by 48 percent of those surveyed by polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. Another 14 percent were “somewhat opposed.”

On the support side, 13 percent of the voters surveyed strongly back a half-percent local sales tax increase, while 24 percent were “somewhat supportive.”

The agency has considered similar sales tax drives in the past to support infrastructure improvement plans, but has never found support either at the polls or in surveys to move forward. The tax needs two-thirds approval from voters before being adopted.

Shakari Byerly, vice president with the polling firm, said that there was no majority support for any type of tax increase. While the survey looked at the county as a whole and didn’t address the level of support in specific cities, Shakari said that the numbers “suggest a challenge.”

“Particularly with the sales tax - it would be quite hard,” Byerly said.

The willingness to pay a specific amount to support transportation improvements was also low - at $20 or less annually.

Walt Scherer, board member from the town of Loomis, said that there is still a possibility that the shifting demographics in Placer County could result in more demand for improvements to public transportation. He said that the 65-and-over population in Placer County is projected to more than double over the next decade.

“Voters might not have an affinity for it today but they’re going to need it tomorrow,” Scherer said. “When the time comes to use it, it needs to be there.”

The board, which includes representatives from cities as well as the county, voted to continue to work on developing transportation priorities and funding approaches for future consideration.

Earlier, the board had heard from Executive Director Celia McAdam, who said that financial resources for new projects were apparently exhausted after successes over the past 14 years on building the Lincoln bypass and widening Interstate 80 at Roseville. Mitigation fees had been established in South Placer County but development has weakened, leaving that funding stream “at a trickle,” she said.

The survey also showed voters opposed to issuing bonds (51 percent against), establishing a flat fee on every parcel of property in the county (70 percent against) and establishing a local quarter-cent tax on gasoline purchases (75 percent against). Increasing the transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms received tepid support, with 49 percent in favor.

Byerly said the survey, which covered 500 voters, has a plus- or minus-4.4 percent margin of error.