Election 2016: Amid Tahoe support, some wary of half-cent sales tax increase
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Eastern Placer County won’t see much geared toward the Tahoe region with November’s Measure M ballot measure, but voters will be asked to approve a sales tax increase that is projected to allocate about $1.6 million per year toward local transit improvements.
While some may roll their eyes at another tax increase, others see the measure as a needed step in funding projects necessary for the economic development and environmental sustainability of the region.
Measure M proposes a county-wide, half-percent sales tax increase that would last 30 years to fund road repairs and general transportation improvements, including things like bike path maintenance and public transit improvements.
Similar measures have gone to the ballot in other California counties to make up for the decline in federal and state funds available, since gas taxes aren’t bringing in what they used to.
As the Sun previously reported, the measure would produce an estimated $1.6 million per year for Tahoe projects.
Squaw Valley Ski Holdings issued a press release Sept. 21 voicing support for the measure in an effort to implement solutions to the region’s traffic problems and “more successfully compete for matching funds from the state and federal governments,” according to the statement.
“It has nothing to do with the development,” said SVSH President Andy Wirth in a Sept. 28 interview with the Sun, referring to the company’s proposed Village at Squaw Valley redevelopment. “We’re an operating company, and we have customers stuck on these roads.”
Wirth said that although the measure probably won’t provide all of the funding the county needs for transit improvements, he thinks it’s an important first step.
“It’s a great start. It’s a credible funding solution that provides us a rational portion of that sales tax,” he said.
But there are many sides to every story, and it’s rare for a tax increase to get approved without a challenge.
Measure M isn’t just about the Lake Tahoe Basin — in fact, most of the projects it would fund are on the western slope, to the tune of $1.6 billion over the 30-year period, compared to $48 million locally over the same timeframe (97 percent to 3 percent).
County-wide opposition seems to even blur party lines.
The Placer County Sierra Club chapter, for example, opposes the tax increase on the basis it does not prioritize transportation methods, such as walking and biking over driving, according to its website.
A statement issued by the group adds that, “highway expansion (as is proposed in western Placer County) does not relieve traffic congestion in the medium to long run.”
Additionally, it criticizes developers who, they claim, benefit from highway improvements for not being the ones funding the projects.
The California Tax Payers Protection Committee, which is led by Tom Hudson, filed the main argument against Measure M with the Placer County elections office on the basis the county needs to “make road building a priority again.”
The committee’s argument criticizes county spending and says money should go toward freeways instead of empty buses and bike paths.
“The real goal is to shift the burden from the developers to the taxpayers, and we don’t think that’s the way to go,” said Hudson in an interview with the Sierra Sun on Tuesday.
He said the county may already have the money it needs for transit improvements, and that staff needs to re-prioritize spending in a way that makes sense.
“One of the things people don’t understand is Placer is at the top of the charts in terms of sales tax collection … one of the reasons for that is we have one of the lowest sales tax rates that’s allowed in California,” he said.
It isn’t the small, everyday purchases that affect this, but the larger ones, he said.
He explained that if sales tax increases in Placer County, consumers could instead take their business to places like Yuba City and Marysville.
“Transactions that would’ve taken place in the Bay Area or Sacramento are instead happening in Roseville or Placer County … if we kill that goose that laid the golden egg, it will cost us,” he said.
Hudson said he expects that potential problem not to affect the Tahoe region as much, but said residents deciding how to vote on Measure M should still consider its impact throughout the county.
Other supporters of Measure M include Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery (whose district includes the Tahoe area), who signed the argument in favor of the proposal on file with the elections office.
Among other things, the argument in favor highlights maintenance on rural roads, Tahoe Basin improvements and alternatives to driving as project areas that would receive funding if the measure is approved.