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SANDAG Tax Measure Commits To Early ‘Priority’ Projects

Photo by Katie Schoolov

SANDAG board members sit around their meeting table, June 24, 2016.

The board of the San Diego Association of Governments on Friday approved the final version of a November ballot initiative to increase the countywide sales tax by a half cent.

The tax has been the subject of discord among groups that often work together, including Democratic politicians, environmentalists and labor unions. Some of the special-interest groups object to the measure's funding of general-purpose freeway lanes and its lack of a project labor agreement that would guarantee union wages paid on construction projects.

Democratic and Republican politicians on the SANDAG board have rallied behind the tax measure as a good compromise that will fill some of the region's most pressing transportation needs. Public transit would get the largest share of the revenue the tax would generate, with about 42 percent. The second-largest share of revenue would fund local infrastructure projects. Freeways would get about 14 percent.

An important last-minute change to the measure established a legally binding goal of completing a list of high-priority transportation projects within 15 years of the tax measure's passage. Those projects include more frequent trolley service, several freeway expansions and a new trolley line that would run from the San Ysidro border crossing to Kearny Mesa, branded the Purple Line.

The legal commitment to the fast-track projects came at the urging of the transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego. The group's policy counsel, Colin Parent, said he was relieved the board took up his suggestion, and that Circulate San Diego could now endorse the tax measure.

"This is going to give real, clear assurances, both to advocates for transit, but then also to the voting public, that SANDAG is going to make transit a priority, and is going to build it in earlier periods of their plan," he said.

Circulate San Diego's endorsement sets it apart from a coalition of environmental and labor groups that sought to purge the measure of certain highway expansions. Most of those groups oppose the tax.

"While many cities in this region have been working towards building more transit-oriented development and more affordable housing, and walkable, healthy neighborhoods, this proposal goes in the opposite direction," said Kayla Race, director of operations and programs for the Climate Action Campaign.

SANDAG board members have said the inclusion of some highway expansions are necessary for the measure to win enough support, and because many people in San Diego County have no connection to public transit.

The tax is expected to raise $18.2 billion over 40 years, and would need approval from two-thirds of county voters to pass. A final approval of the measure's legal framework is expected at the next SANDAG board meeting on July 8.

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