Support for SB1 – It’s All In How You Ask the Question
All 58 California counties recently submitted project plans for the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017—also known as SB1. The plans reflect a wide variety of projects throughout the state that will make road and bridges safer and in some locations improve alternatives to car-travel. The project plans coincide with the first new revenue available pursuant to SB 1 that became effective on November 1.
At full implementation in 2019, SB 1 will provide $750 million per year in new formula funding for county road repair and maintenance, the same amount for cities and about $3.8 billion for California to use on the state highway and transit systems. Unfortunately, this desperately-needed funding to fix California’s transportation infrastructure could stop flowing if either of two initiatives to repeal SB 1 qualify for the ballot and is approved by voters in November 2018.
One measure is a relatively straightforward statutory repeal of the provisions of SB 1. This initiative would eliminate SB 1’s taxes and transportation program revenues, and also its accountability and oversight requirements.
The second initiative, spearheaded by Republican members of Congress, would repeal SB 1’s new revenue streams by retroactively requiring a vote of the people to affirm any transportation or fuel-related taxes approved by the Legislature after January 1, 2017. The language of the initiative is murky, but it appears to apply to any future vehicle-related or fuel-related taxes or fees—an incredibly broad requirement that doesn’t apply to any other statewide revenue streams.
Private and public polling, however, has shown that repealing transportation SB 1’s new transportation revenues is unpopular with voters. Although you may have seen a story about an LA Times poll showing that a majority of registered voters said they would cancel the tax and fee hikes, the responses to this poll reflects the way the question was asked.
The LA Times asked voters whether they wanted to “keep it” or “cancel” the new taxes and fees. That’s not the question that will be asked if one of the two repeal measures make it on the November 2018 ballot. The LA Times question also doesn’t explain what people will give up if SB 1 is repealed, namely, critical maintenance and multimodal projects to improve mobility and safety on our highways and local roadways.”
Any repeal measure on the ballot will likely make this tradeoff more clear, that repealing the revenues would also “reduce funding for transportation programs” language. We know from polling conducted by the Fix Our Roads coalition that when voters are asked this question and the trade-off is made clear, voters overall vote against the repeal (and to keep SB 1). See this column outlining Fix Our Roads polling.
While it’s still very early in the 2018 election cycle, CSAC encourages counties to fully embrace the transparency and accountability measures included within SB 1 so voters understand what’s at stake if an SB 1 repeal initiative makes the ballot. Every county has now publicly adopted a list of SB 1-funded projects, but it’s important to continue to highlight the resulting work and the benefits to local communities. CSAC has prepared templates for news releases, social media posts, and other public relations tools. We’ll be updating these tools, available online here, as local governments move from planning for SB 1 to implementing on our local roads.