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PD Editorial: Pushing back tax was right move

  • Woolsey Road near Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat, FILE 2011)

In today’s supercharged political environment, changing one’s mind is often regarded as a sign of weakness. That would explain why, particularly in a Congress locked in partisan warfare, it doesn’t happen very often.

But reversing direction based on logic and a careful examination of the facts can be a laudable course of action. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors showed such clear thinking on Tuesday in delaying a plan to go to voters with a quarter-cent sales tax to upgrade the county’s deteriorating system of roads.

It’s not that the revenue isn’t needed. On the contrary, the county’s 1,400-mile network of roads is considered among the worst in the nine-county Bay Area. For more than two years, electeds have been scrambling to find extra funds to invest in road repairs. Yet, the county is still some $268 million behind in the work that’s needed. The measure as proposed would raise $20 million in the first year, with the county receiving $8.7 million. Santa Rosa would receive $5.4 million with Petaluma getting $1.8 million and the other seven cities receiving lesser amounts.

The board, this week, was supposed to formalize that decision. But instead, persuaded by Supervisors Mike McGuire and David Rabbitt, it opted to change direction and push the measure back to a special election in March.

Why the pivot? First it was a simple math problem, one that didn’t add up for the county. Seven measures are already on the Nov. 4 ballot in Sonoma County, all seeking some kind of revenue increase. These include a $410 million Santa Rosa Junior College bond measure for facility upgrades and two separate bond measures for Santa Rosa City Schools totaling $229 million. In addition, tax measures are proposed in various cities including a utility tax increase in Santa Rosa and a one-cent sales tax measure in Petaluma. As a result, the prospects of success for a countywide tax for roads were limited.

Second, the road measure was put together somewhat hastily, before the county had an opportunity to have it vetted by the cities and community groups.

Which leads to a third reason for the about-face — dissatisfaction, if not outright opposition, from the county’s two largest cities. Fearing a roads tax would doom its sales tax, the Petaluma City Council had already approved a “resolution of nonsupport.” Meanwhile, Santa Rosa council members were expressing in public their own reservations about the tax, which also did not bode well for the measure.

A major downside of the delay is the additional $300,000 that will be needed for a special election. But it will be worth the cost if it buys the county time to get the feedback and support it needs from cities and community groups. If this is to succeed, the county needs to make its case the first time. It’s unlikely to get a second chance.


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