Measure R: Setting the record straight
Recently, staff of the Tulare County Association of Governments announced the possibility of Measure R clean-air revenues beyond the original, very conservative projections.
The news coverage has generated public discussion that is not entirely based on the facts of Measure R.
A key component of the success of Measure R in 2006 was the transparency in how the sales tax revenues would be used to improve Tulare County’s transportation network.
The pie chart consistently included in educational materials showed that 35 percent of funds would be used for local projects; 50 percent for projects of regional significance; 14 percent for clean air projects such as bike paths and buses; and 1 percent for administration.
The categories and percentages were the result of much research into Tulare County’s transportation needs, and the categories were part of the Expenditure Plan. In approving Measure R, the voters also approved the Expenditure Plan.
The categories cannot be changed, as has been suggested. Funding must be allocated to categories as laid out in the Expenditure Plan and approved by voters.
Some residents question spending money on bikes and buses when Tulare County is still struggling to fix potholes. However, our road needs now total $500 million, and if major corridors such as Highways 99, 63, 147 and 198 are included, that total hits $1 billion. We cannot address this level of need by shifting money even if the voter-approved Expenditure Plan allowed such changes.
The 14 percent clean air funding is providing an essential lifeline to people who need the bus to get to work and school. The funding is creating bike paths to encourage healthier transportation choices and support cleaner air. The funding makes possible new sidewalks, which help reduce airborne dust and provide safer access to schools for our children.
And, to put it simply, those who place a priority on cleaning our air made Measure R a reality. The initiative would not have passed without support from clean-air, bicycle, pedestrian and transit advocates.
It is the responsibility of TCAG staff and board to look ahead, calculate financial projections and plan ahead. Planning any transportation-related project — whether it is a bike path or a highway — can take years because of the need to analyze environmental impacts, work through right-of-way purchases and design the project.
If TCAG’s projections are accurate and funding is available beyond the original plans, and we have done nothing to plan to effectively use that funding, the projects will face lengthy delays. To not plan ahead would be irresponsible.
Planning ahead doesn’t mean spending. Consider TCAG’s long-term planning as saving for a new house. The house is on the horizon but the house won’t be built until the down payment is saved and the mortgage is signed because the funding is not a certainty until then. There is no “extra” money today.
Before a new project can be added to the Expenditure Plan, it must be amended, which is a formal process. The first step for TCAG is a series of community meetings beginning in early 2013 to gather input on potential new clean-air projects.
Projects currently in the Expenditure Plan will always come first, and it is the role of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee to ensure that we make the best possible use of taxpayer funds. Measure R gives us local control so that our cities and the county are not relying solely on state and federal funding, and held hostage by the whims of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
The voters of Tulare County made a bold statement about the need to improve our transportation network. I encourage residents to now become involved in the amendment process, and to stay informed about how Measure R works.
All Citizens’ Oversight Committee meetings are open to the public, and information is available at www.tcmeasurer.com. The next Measure R-related meeting is the Tulare County Transportation Authority, which will meet at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 22, at the Exeter Historical Museum, 125 S. B St. Please join us to be part of the process.
Phil LoBue is the chairman of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee for Measure R; Russ Dahler is on the committee, representing bicycle/pedestrian/transit concerns.