New Legislation Seeks to Lower Voter Threshold for Transit Tax Approval

In 2008, Bruins for Traffic Relief Rallied for the Measure R transit sales tax which despite earning nearly 70% of the vote barely passed. New legislation seeks to lower that threshold from 67% to 50%.

A series of amendments proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to SB 791 would lower the threshold of voter approval for new taxes to fund transportation improvements from 67% to 50%.

“SB 791 empowers local communities to meet their local transportation needs, improve regional mobility, and invest in high-priority, job-creating infrastructure improvements,” said Sen. Steinberg.

News of this change broke over the weekend, and already transportation groups such as the Bay Area’s TransForm are already providing Action Alerts for Californians to contact their representatives in Sacramento.

The anti-congestion charge, in the form of per gallon fees on fuel paid at the pump, could be used to fund transit, bike and pedestrian projects, toll lanes, and the safety and maintenance of state highways and bridges. The charge would be levied on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel and, for electric cars, on vehicle registration, and could be implemented for up to 30 years.

Revenues could pay for transit capital, operations and maintenance; bicycle and pedestrian programs and projects; programs and projects that would demonstrably reduce the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT); conversion of carpool lanes to toll lanes; and improvements “relative to the maintenance, safety and rehabilitation of state highways and bridges.”

“Almost half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation,” said Warner Chabot, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “SB 791 will provide Californians with better transportation choices. It will lead to fewer cars on the road and will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is an environmental milestone.”

As we’ve seen with other proposals that would allow expansion of transit, bicycling or pedestrian networks, there is unity between environmental groups, organized labor and business leaders when it comes to supporting “pro-transit” ballot initiatives.

“The transportation improvements that would be made possible by SB 791 would create desperately needed good jobs in California,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “Every $1 billion invested in transportation creates about 47,500 jobs. SB 791 will put Californians back to work, especially those who have been hit hardest by the recession.”

In 2008, Los Angeles County became the most recent county to pass a tax to fund transportation improvements.  Because any voter approved fee requires two-thirds support, it was a long night for transit advocates on November 4, 2008 despite overwhelming support for the initiative.  For Denny Zane, the executive director of Move L.A., the coalition founded to support Measure R, Steinberg’s proposal is a welcome change.

“In 2008 voters in LA County miraculously voted to support the Measure R sales tax for transportation by a two-thirds vote in the throes of a collapsing economy.  But, it should not require a miracle to ensure the future of our transportation system and our economy,” said Zane. “This bill provides the opportunity for congestion reduction strategies that can be approved by a sensible majority vote, including expanded transit services or highway improvements.”

No hearing date has been scheduled for SB 791, but Streetsblog will cover this legislation if it moves through the Senate and Assembly.


  • Anonymous

    I take it Asm. Blumenfield took my recommendation to heart?

  • LAofAnaheim

    It’s funny…….this is the type of legislation the old-school Republicans would support. Taxes at local level and not federal level. However, we’re living in the days of the Tea Party and John & Ken outsting anybody who supports any support of tax increase. I hope this passes as it just makes sense. Let people vote on their own tax fate. I’m proud LA county voted 68% yes, but imagine if we can get one more sales tax to expedite even more funding (and possible dedicated bike lane infrastructure spending??).

  • Sally T.

    They don’t like any taxes at all. They see taxes as a form of theft (the local versus federal taxation thing is just a smokescreen). And trains are some kind of Soviet plot to steal our freedoms and benefit big cities (full of the “wrong sort”) at the expense of Real AmericansTM.

  • California Angel

    you people are insane.

    do you not realize we have the SECOND HIGHEST GAS TAXES IN THE NATION?

  • California Angel

    you people are insane.

    do you not realize we have the SECOND HIGHEST GAS TAXES IN THE NATION?

  • LAofAnaheim

    Ronald Reagan and the Republicans increased the CA state gas tax and the Federal gas tax. It’s the Tea Party that is pulling the reasonable Republicans to Libertarianism.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Ronald Reagan and the Republicans increased the CA state gas tax and the Federal gas tax. It’s the Tea Party that is pulling the reasonable Republicans to Libertarianism.

  • elite-est

    And some of the lowest in the World. California made the decision long ago to be a world leader. Comparing the state to mediocre flyover states is a disservice.

  • elite-est

    And some of the lowest in the World. California made the decision long ago to be a world leader. Comparing the state to mediocre flyover states is a disservice.

  • Farquard Q. Fudpucker

    Yes, raise the tax so gas is $7.00 a gallon and force all the drivers to cram onto  the buses with illegal aliens. Sacramento is totally out of control.

  • Ronrueda

    So I take it you don’t want to pay to keep your precious Highways from falling apart.

  • Pete

    @d4994bd4b8346478af453a446ca045ee:disqus Oh, you mean those states that aren’t nearly a trillion in debt, overflowing with illegal immigrants, losing businesses daily, have 20% unemployment, the highest taxes in the nation, and yet most of it looks like a 3rd world central american slum?  Are those the states you mean?

  • Farquard Q. Fudpucker

    The highways would be in great shape if the idiots didn’t keep diverting the gas tax money dedicated to highways to the general fund to pay for illegal alien services.

  • Ronrueda

    Even if the the state had not diverted transportation funds to the general the fact of the matter is both state and federal gas taxes have not kept in touch with inflation because they are flat taxes and have not been updated since the early 1990’s. Add this to the fact that more fuel efficient cars are entering the market reducing the return of gas taxes to the transportation fund and you see that the issue transcends the illegal immigrant scapegoating that certain groups of people are so fond of using.

  • Farquard Q. Fudpucker

    Look, it is clear that you are a progressive socialist who smiles and says, Thank you! to every new tax that comes down the pike. End of conversation … my error in landing in LaLa land.

  • Anonymous

    @4f7d697e32e0e63302803db1d8e79ca9:disqus Do you realize that’s like being the skinny kid at fat camp? You’ve got to be kidding. The US has just about the lowest gas taxes in the industrialized world:
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/02/fuel_prices

  • Anonymous

    This needs to happen. It’s profoundly unfair that people who vote “no” get two votes, but people who vote “yes” only have their vote count one time.

    Los Angeles was finally able to start building and fixing its decrepit schools after a statewide ballot measure finally lowered the threshold for school construction funding from 2/3 to 55%.
    This bill modifies Prop 13 so it will take a 2/3 vote to pass the legislature. I.e. it’s not going to happen for the time being. A statewide ballot measure to lower the threshold for transportation funding taxes has more promise. It would only require a majority to pass.

  • I’d love to see gas taxes drop to zero, no more gov. bonds issued, and no government tolls.

    And a 100% privately-funded road network.

    Oh wait, that sounds impractical? Then quit bitching about slightly higher taxes on your already cheap gas so I can ride to work with very slightly less chance of being slaughtered by some idiot.

  • Dan W.

    You are free to leave at any time.

  • Clutch J

    When you write, “The highways would be in great shape if the idiots didn’t keep diverting the gas tax money dedicated to highways to the general fund,” you are erroneous. Gas taxes have never been diverted and cannot be under Article XIX of the state constitution. The dispute to which you refer has been over sales taxes collected uopn the sales of gasoline. That’s different.

  • CommentsfromMD

    We need this in the Baltimore/Washington corridor.  We need faster and more frequent trains between Baltimore and Washington and within Baltimore, transit to get to those train stations.  The roads are crappy and clogged. There has been no new transit lines since the early nineties and our badly needed light rail red line project isn’t suppose to open until 2020. Arghh! 

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