Contra Costa County voters are being asked to approve another half-cent sales tax hike this November in order to reduce traffic congestion, fix potholes and improve public transportation options.
Measure X, which requires two-thirds majority vote to pass, would raise $2.9 billion over 30 years to be administered by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which proposed the measure.
The money would come from bonds that would be paid back by the sales tax revenue.
"I wouldn't have supported a sales tax four years ago, now I've got my name on it," said CCTA chairman David Hudson, who is also a member of the San Ramon City Council. "I'm a Republican. You don't get a lot of Republicans saying, 'I want a sales tax.'"
Measure X would go into effect in 2017 and supplement the county's existing half-cent sales tax, which expires in 2034. Voters approved that tax as Measure J in 2004, but just about all of the $2.5 billion is now either spent or earmarked for existing projects, Hudson said.
The biggest single chunk of the Measure X money, $684 million, would go to local street maintenance and improvements, according to the CCTA's spending plan.
The next largest, $300 million, is earmarked for making improvements to the BART system in the county, including the purchase of new train cars, parking improvements and station enhancements.
Hundreds of millions would also go toward traffic flow improvements on the county's highways, bus transit improvements, new bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and other projects, according to the plan.
"This money is really in response to what people told us," Hudson said. "We put together a citizen working group of businesses, bike advocates and environmentalists and we let them talk for a year or so."
The measure's supporter list is long and includes dozens of elected officials, the League of Women Voters, Bike East Bay and the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, according to the CCTA.
As of Thursday, proponents have raised more than $1.2 million in an effort to convince voters to approve Measure X, according to county Elections Division records.
Opponents, who have not mounted a coordinated campaign, say the measure will double the current tax burden while making the same unmet promises of traffic relief that were made during the Measure J campaign 12 years ago.
"Their planning is based on (the idea that) we'll keep growing the way we've been growing for the past four generations and we won't change anything," said David Schonbrunn, president of the San Rafael-based Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund. "It's a recipe for gridlock."
While Schonbrunn's group isn't raising money for an opposition campaign, he said the two-thirds approval burden faced by proponents works in his favor.
"We're hoping to trash this thing based on the 25% of the population that will vote against any tax," Schonbrunn said. "We want to provide just enough arguments to convince another 10 percent that, nah, this isn't for me."
Currently, the county's sales tax rate ranges from 8.5% in many communities, including Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Danville, to a high of 10% in El Cerrito, according to the State Board of Equalization.
-- Kiley Russell, Bay City News Service