Sacramento tax increase for infrastructure could conflict with climate law

June 2, 2022

Planning agency claims $8.5 billion tax conflicts with a climate law, risking funding and progress on emissions reduction

An $8.5 billion tax increase in the city of Sacramento, California for infrastructure funding is at risk after a regional planning agency claimed it conflicts with a climate law. 

The “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022,” is a developer-backed half-cent tax hike proposal that would help fund most of the county’s long-envisioned infrastructure projects for the next 40 years, from street repairs and pedestrian paths to highway expansions and mass transit improvements.

The ballot initiative is written in a way that would violate a climate-focused planning law passed 15 years ago, which would compromise the entire six-county region’s ability to secure funding. If the discrepancy isn’t resolved, state and federal agencies would likely cut off access to public dollars that are needed for most transportation and affordable housing projects.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), the chief planning agency for 28 cities and counties, detailed the risks in an analysis last month. With a peer-review panel including faculty from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine, SACOG determined that “the region would likely fall short of meeting its state-mandated 19 percent per capita greenhouse gas reduction target by nearly 2 percent.”

The analysis concluded a failure to do so “would jeopardize the region’s ability to compete for state transportation and housing funding programs.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is trying to negotiate peace between the oversight agency and influential business and labor groups.

The group behind the measure, the Committee for a Better Sacramento, includes the California State Council of Laborers, the California Alliance for Jobs and the Sacramento Region Business Association. A 2017 state Supreme Court decision allows local governments to work with special interest groups to pass tax increases with approval by a simple majority of voters instead of the previously required two-thirds.

The majority of the projects in the initiative are roads and freeways, including $300 million earmarked for the Southeast Capital Connector, a 34-mile expressway linking Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Folsom.

The Sacramento Regional Transit District would receive over $2 billion if the measure passed, helping to fund light rail expansions to the international airport, Elk Grove, Citrus Heights, and Folsom, among other projects. The difference in carbon reductions, however, is 0.06 percent, SACOG calculated, showing that “the additional transit infrastructure does not mitigate for additional vehicle emissions enough to achieve the regional (greenhouse gas) reduction target.”

The 26 projects that break from the plan “would substantially increase per capita (greenhouse gas) emissions,” SACOG concluded, due to “the impact additional transportation capacity would have on the location of new housing and employment development, substantially altering the region’s land use forecast and travel patterns.”

The biggest potential loss for the region, as a result, would be gas tax revenues for infrastructure. Drivers throughout the Sacramento region would keep paying taxes at the pump, without reaping the benefits for the roads they drive on. Over the last four years, gas tax revenues have helped fund more than 440 projects across the region, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars.


Source: Governing

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