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Commission to Consider Transit Levy

A Ventura County panel will discuss a half-cent sales tax proposed for the fall ballot. Critics say the road measure would spur more growth.

June 04, 2004|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

Leaders of Ventura County's 10 cities have agreed that they would like to see a transportation tax initiative on the November ballot.

Today, the county's Transportation Commission will decide whether to forward the proposed half-cent sales tax measure to the Board of Supervisors, who would make the final decision on whether to put the initiative before voters in the fall.

If approved by voters, the proposed tax would raise about $1.5 billion over 30 years for local roads, highway projects and transportation services.

The tax would add a half cent to the county's current 7 1/4% sales tax.

A majority of the seven-member Transportation Commission said they expected to send the tax proposal to county supervisors, who would have to decide by July 2 whether to put it on the ballot.

Commissioner Linda Parks, who is also a county supervisor, said she would vote against sending the initiative on. Fellow commissioner and Supervisor Steve Bennett could not be reached for comment.

Parks said the tax measure was excessive and would only encourage more growth.

"It's $1.5 billion over the course of 30 years to stopgap a current [state] budget crisis," Parks said. "I could support it if it were a smaller amount, but because it's so excessive, it goes beyond our current needs."

But Transportation Commission Vice Chairman Patti Walker, a member of the Fillmore City Council, said that the time had come to do something about traffic, which has grown increasingly worse on the county's major highways.

"We're gridlocked today," Walker said. "Truthfully, this is a necessity. It's not going to go away."

Commissioner Keith Millhouse, a Moorpark city councilman, agreed.

He said the tax, expected to bring in $50 million yearly for its 30-year life, would be split, with 40% used for highways, 40% for local streets and 20% for public transportation. "The measure's a good one, because it provides for all segments of transportation," he said.

Millhouse also said the proposed tax measure had several safeguards built in to ensure that the bulk of the money would go to highway and transportation projects. He said only 1% of the money could be used for administrative fees, and there would be yearly audits and an automatic halt if money was improperly diverted.

Kerry Forsythe, deputy director of the Transportation Commission, disagrees with the argument that the highway widening and improvement projects funded by the tax would spur more growth.

"People say you're going to build this and create growth," he said. "But we're not building to attract trips. We're simply building to accommodate what's already being planned in the various communities."

If the transportation tax is placed on the November ballot, it will join a proposed quarter-cent tax that would raise money for land to be bought and maintained as open space.

While commissioners said two tax measures could cancel each other out, all said voters would make their own decisions.

"No one likes to pay higher taxes," said Commissioner Dean Maulhardt, an Oxnard city councilman. "But I rely on the judgment of the voters."

The fact that the county's 10 city councils voted to put the measure on the ballot will guide his vote today, he said.

Because the three council members on the Transportation Commission represent all 10 cities, "I don't see what choice we have but to put it on the ballot," he said.

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