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Measure A Tax Increase Divides Conservatives, Liberals Alike

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One of the most divisive items on the November ballot is Measure A, a countywide half-cent sales tax increase that would fund transportation projects and open space preservation. Neither conservatives nor liberals can agree on whether it's a sound investment of public dollars.

Measure A is among the most hotly debated items on the November ballot. The countywide half-cent sales tax increase was crafted over the course of more than two years by the San Diego Association of Governments, the county's transportation planning organization.

The tax increase would fund a range of transportation, infrastructure and open space projects. But while most elected officials and interest groups agree San Diego County should invest more in those areas, neither liberals nor conservatives can agree on whether Measure A is the answer.

The measure is expected to raise about $18.2 billion over its lifespan of 40 years. The largest share of that money — about 42 percent — would go to public transit: new rapid bus lines, more frequent buses and trolleys and the construction of a new "Purple Line" trolley from San Ysidro to Kearny Mesa.

The second largest share — 24 percent — would go to local infrastructure. Cities could use that money for a number of things, including road repair, sidewalks, bike lanes or beach maintenance. The third largest share — 14 percent — would fund highway projects: a mix of carpool lanes, general purpose lanes and freeway connectors.

San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria is among Measure A's biggest supporters. He said it was the result of compromise.

"That is, Republicans who are supporting tax increases, even when it's politically not something they're supposed to do," Gloria said. "Or Democrats who are willing to say, 'You know what, we will agree to finance some freeway expansion in order to get a massive increase in public transit for our community.'"

Joining Gloria in support of Measure A are unions representing carpenters, laborers and firefighters, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and a group of elected officials, both Republican and Democrat.

Opposition to Measure A includes the Republican and Democratic parties of San Diego County, the electrical workers' union and several other progressive and environmental organizations.

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, who opposes Measure A, acknowledged the greater share of transit funding in Measure A. But he said his opposition to the measure wasn't based on the share of dollars for public transit.

One of the first projects Measure A would fund is an expansion of Interstate 5 from the edge of Barrio Logan, in Alvarez's district, through National City and Chula Vista, ending in San Ysidro. Alvarez said increasing the freeway capacity there would worsen pollution.

"Communities like Barrio Logan, but not just exclusive to Barrio Logan, suffer from respiratory illnesses because of the pollution, the emissions from freeways that are right in middle of these communities," he said. "And this initiative ... proposes to continue to bring more cars to a lot of those communities that already suffer from that."

Alvarez also pointed to research that shows adding lanes to freeways doesn't actually relieve congestion in the long term. Instead it just encourages more people to drive on them.

But polling commissioned by SANDAG suggests freeway funding and local infrastructure repair are among the most popular components of Measure A. Support for the overall measure appeared to be barely within reach of the two-thirds majority it would need to become law.

If Measure A fails, politicians and organizations from both sides of the political spectrum are likely to claim victory. Alvarez said he would then like to explore a more localized tax measure that could better suit the transportation needs and desires of individual communities.

Election 2020 news coverage


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Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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