Measure L: Borrow Now, Pay Later



The voter handbook has arrived. Now voters can see what Measure L really is about. In the first paragraph of the handbook’s explanation of Measure L, the text says that local government may issue bonds using anticipated revenue from the one half percent sales tax to build and repair roads.

Historically, roads have been funded by a pay-as-you-go system. Under the present system, local government had cash to build or repair roads. Under Measure L, local government will be permitted to issue bonds to pay for current desires and use future sales tax collection to repay the debt.

Suppose politicians decide they want to use all of the money upfront to spur urban growth. Also, suppose that the oversight committee is packed with urban growth advocates. What will stop them from spending twenty five years of anticipated sales tax revenue now on roadway expansion to serve new growth and burdening the next generation with the obligation for repayment? The expenditure plan in the voter handbook is not legally binding.

Government already has taken on too much debt. Taxpayer money used for servicing debt is a waste of funds. Taking on new debt enables government to operate beyond its means, mortgaging the future. In the main, borrowing is bad public policy.

Measure L Flexibility

Measure L allows expenditures for any transportation purpose. The disclaimer in the campaign mailers says that what gets done is subject to tax revenue.  If not enough revenue is received to do two-thirds of the promised projects, no adverse consequences accrue to the promoters of the measure. But the public will not get what is expected or desired. Given the inclination of the political elite of Stanislaus County toward promotion of urban growth, which projects are most likely to be funded first?

Growth inducing projects will get highest priority. Projects serving new residential subdivisions would get the highest priority. Business parks would not have much demand for new roads as new business is not moving into the area. More urban sprawl at the cost of farm land will be the result.

Measure L will force every person in Stanislaus County to pay for this system of bad public policy.

Another Tax Increase After Measure L Passes?

After the bond money is quickly spent, pro-growth politicians will want to pass another half percent sales tax increase. They will ask for more money for an endless list of projects demanded by new growth created during expenditure of the first tax. More growth will cause more roadway congestion. Bay Area Counties like Santa Clara have worse congestion now than before they passed their sales tax increases.

Had new development infrastructure not been subsidized the last thirty years, existing roads would have been fixed with existing tax revenue and the roads would not be in such bad condition. Notice how newer parts of town have the best roads while older parts have the worst roads.

For the future campaign, proponents will roll out the same propaganda used to pass the first Measure L. The condition of old roads will worsen during the life of Measure L because all of the roadwork will be done at the beginning of the 25 year tax, with no money left to fix roads during the last 20 years of the tax. Sacramento County is an example of this outcome.

Proposition 13 was passed because California voters were fed up with incessant tax increases. Most politicians still have not grasped the principle. If they can raise a tax or fee, they will do so regardless of public sentiment.'

About Bruce Frohman

Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. He believes the best way to build a better community is to have an informed citizenry.