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Pension Reform, Extending Measure M Top Priorities for Sonoma County

Sonoma County cities don't need to raise taxes. What they do need is an extension of Measure M, the quarter-cent sales tax that expires in 2022, and which funds vital projects and creates jobs, writes the author

 

Politicians are constantly talking to us about jobs. What is disappointing is the disconnect between talked about policies being implemented into real programs that actually accomplish much needed goals. 

For the past several years I have been reaching out to fellow elected leaders and County of Sonoma staff in an effort to offer the voters an opportunity to provide a program which would not raise current tax rates but would generate capital to build much needed traffic improvements while providing good-paying jobs. 

These efforts have included talks with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority directors and staff, discussions at the mayor and Sonoma County councilmember events as well as meetings with construction industry officials and many members of our environmental community. Now it's time to move past talk and into action.

Measure M is a quarter-cent sales tax which Sonoma County voters approved in November of 2004 (it expires in 2022). The proceeds from this funding source have been the foundation needed to achieve significant matching funds from the State and Federal Government for accomplishing Highway 101 improvements. 

Most segments from north of Petaluma all the way to Windsor have been completed.  Yet the promises of Measure M will not be fulfilled until there are three lanes in each direction all the way through southern Sonoma County on toward the Golden Gate Bridge. For now, county residents using 101 south of the Cotati grade await a fair share of the promised improvements.

The recession has been deeper and longer than any time since the depression. It caused a significant shortfall in projected revenues from the original sales tax measure.  The recession also resulted in lowering our borrowing costs with many projects being built significantly under original estimated costs.

Today we are still in a low-bid, low-interest rate environment. We need leadership that provides competent direction and crafts an extension of the original Measure M initiative which will enable the transportation authority to access money in a low cost bond market. To accomplish this we do not need to increase the amount of the tax currently paid, but we do need an extension of the time we will pay that rate. The payoff will be jobs today spurring our local economy and delivering traffic relief sooner rather than later.

It's time for the politicians to do more than provide lip service about jobs and traffic relief. It is time to deliver all the promised improvements, on 101 and elsewhere in the county. Extending Measure M requires the support of voters. To achieve that support it will be important that the state, Sonoma County, and cities delivers meaningful pension reform. Doing so will provide needed credibility with the voters.

The successful extension of Measure M funding is the path to fulfilling promises made and yet to be delivered, a situation we face far too often.  Measure M is the most important priority to continue to provide traffic relief and jobs.

I encourage all Sonoma County residents to contact their Supervisors and other elected leaders, asking them to keep their eye on the ball in the next couple of years, implementing policies which will fulfill a primary mission of government by delivering the necessary infrastructure for our county in a timely manner. In this low bid, low interest rate, high unemployment environment any other direction would be unwise and unfortunate.

The plan is a simple one. While nothing is free, the benefits are immediate and the savings of later inflated construction costs and loss of current economic activity justify the necessary cost.  With jobs now we could solve some of our home foreclosure issues and generate a stronger tax basis which will support other government provided services such as public safety.

It has never been more important for government to prioritize projects and expenditures. Pension reform and the extension of Measure M funding should be top priorities for every jurisdiction in the county.  

David Glass is the mayor of Petaluma and a retired municipal bond broker.

Patrick M. November 29, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Show me how much of this money has been spent on bike lanes, bus routes, rail lines instead of widening the highway.
ed a November 29, 2012 at 04:21 AM
how about the ranier over pass... that would be big help

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