California's Secretary of State has stepped into the debate over an initiative effort to bring the commute rail sales tax back to the ballot, clarifying which elections code should be enforced and who should run the election.

However, in a letter to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District, the secretary of state's office doesn't address the question of how many signatures will be required nor whether SMART can require a summary to be stapled to the front of the initiative petitions.

"We intend to fully comply with this procedure," SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said Friday.

RepealSMART has been collecting signatures since mid-September in an effort to qualify a measure for the June or November ballot that would overturn Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax voters in Sonoma and Marin counties passed by 70 percent in November 2008.

Since then, SMART has seen its tax revenues shrink in a bad economy and scaled back what it will be able to provide. The agency now plans to build a line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, now delayed to 2015 or 2016, and extend the line to Cloverdale and to Larkspur as additional funding becomes available.

Critics say that is not what was promised voters in 2008, they don't believe there will be more funding to extend the line and they want voters to have a chance to vote again on the tax.

As the repeal effort unfolded, debates arose over how the election should be run and how many signatures are needed.

SMART, contending that there is no state code for two-county districts with an appointed board, adopted an ordinance naming its clerk of the board as the election official. And it ordered repeal backers to attach to its petitions a 167-word title and summary meant to be an impartial description of the intiative.

The secretary of state's office at that time said SMART was overstepping its bounds, that it could not require the statement or write its own ordinance.

Backers of the repeal have refused to attach the agency-written statement to its petitions.

In its letter last Tuesday, the secretary of state said that local registrar of voters in Sonoma and Marin counties should be in charge of the election. The elections office also specified who can submit arguments if the issue gets on the ballot.

But the question of how many signatures will be reqired to qualify the intiative for the ballot remains unresolved.

The letter specifies an elections code section that the secretary of state believes should govern the process. That code requires 39,000 signatures to qualify an initiative, but the letter did not address how many signatures would be required.

SMART's attorneys believe that a separate election code should apply and would would require 30,000 signatures.

RepealSMART co-chairman Clay Mitchell said the number of signatures should be 15,000, as specified in Proposition 218.

"Proposition 218 created an article in the state constitution that trumps any other law," Mitchell said.

It is likely that the issue will have to be resolved by the courts.

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