Guest View: Rebuttal view on roads tax

Traffic backed up back to Bolsa Road after an accident involving five cars and a big rig closed Highway 25 in both directions in June 2015.

I want to respond to Mark Dickson’s commentary, “Doubts on a tax idea”. The proposed half-cent sales tax recommended by the Council of San Benito County Governments for voter consideration in June is the result of a comprehensive study by staff to address existing roads that need improvement. The COG Board is comprised of: Chair Tony Boch; Vice Chair Ignacio Velazquez; and Directors Anthony Botelho, Victor Gomez and Jerry Muenzer representing the cities of Hollister, San Juan Bautista and San Benito County. The COG board unanimously supports the proposed countywide half-cent sales tax to improve and maintain existing roads in the county.
San Benito County roads, which include the City of Hollister, San Juan Bautista and part of Aromas, are capital assets comprising an important part of local government’s critical infrastructure that require re-investment to construct, widen, extend and maintain to support public safety and the transport of commuters into and out of the county. If we don’t support the tax, then we support the continued deterioration of roads and highways that we, as a community, are responsible to maintain and improve.
Mr. Dickson’s expressed opinion requires some filtering to separate his anger from the factual data; I agree with him that some government entities—especially Gavilan College and its questionable “you-won’t-see-a-campus-built-for-20-years” campus location—are deserving of criticism and public outrage. But lumping all tax ideas together and putting them before the proverbial firing squad is not the solution to maintaining and improving existing roads and highways that we as a community depend upon for safety and upon which our local economy is built.
The voter survey commissioned by COG to which Mr. Dickson refers had a generally favorable response from community members. A majority of respondents recognize and support the need to implement a half-cent sales tax to improve existing roads and expand the transit system to and from Gilroy and, potentially, Salinas.
The following question was crafted to measure potential support for a transportation sales tax measure:
“Shall the voters authorize implementing the San Benito County Transportation Safety and Investment Plan to: Maintain roads and repair potholes; Improve safety and traffic flow on Highway 25; Improve safety and traffic flow on local roads; Increase bicycle and pedestrian safety; and Improve transit services for youth, seniors, and people with disabilities by enacting a half cent sales tax, raising approximately $8 million dollars annually over 30 years, with annual audits by an independent oversight committee?”
About 67% of voters—almost exactly the ratio needed to pass the proposed tax pursuant to Prop 39—support the implementation of this tax which is consistent with the previous transportation tax voters supported that was approved in 1988.
According to the survey results, the following conclusions could reasonably be drawn: The survey shows that a June 2016 transportation tax measure for San Benito County is viable. The expenditure plan should include a diversity of investments in roads, highways, bike/pedestrian projects and transit services. Communication with voters should focus on the potential benefits of the expenditure plan, while reinforcing the presence of strong accountability components. A vast majority of San Benito County’s population uses Hwy. 25 and Hwy. 156 to commute to and from work 5 days a week. These voters understand existing roadway conditions and the value of enhancing travel safety, travel time reliability, completing a four-lane expressway project on Hwy. 25, removing traffic bottlenecks and improving Hwy. 101 system connectivity.
The best way to meet those transportation and transit goals and objectives will be for voters to support the proposed half-cent transportation sales tax this June.

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