Red-Hot County Transportation Tax Debate Comes to City Hall
One of the hottest topics in Fresno politics is the future of the countywide half-cent transportation tax.
At the heart of the debate: When should a Measure C renewal go on the ballot and how should the nearly $7 billion in potential sales tax revenue be used?
The Fresno City Council heard dueling Measure C presentations on Thursday but punted on deciding whether to back a renewal vote this year or delay it until 2024.
For the second week in a row, a motion to ask officials to wait until 2024 was removed from the agenda. Councilman Miguel Arias wanted the council’s transportation committee to hear the arguments first and provide recommendations.
For nearly two hours, the city council heard the pros and cons of putting the Measure C renewal on the November ballot and took time to ask questions.
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Proponents Call for Renewal on November Ballot
Mike Leonardo, executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Authority, presented an overview on why a Measure C renewal should go to the voters this year. He discussed polling data indicating broad support across geographic areas and income levels. To be extended, the measure must receive two-thirds approval by voters.
The current Measure C expires in 2027. It is estimated to raise $1.5 billion (2007-2027). The proposed renewal would extend it for 30 years at the same half-cent tax. It is estimated to generate $6.8 billion from 2027-2057.
While prior Measure C spending focused on expanding highways, the proposed extension has a different focus. More than half (51%) would be spent on repairing local roads. Fifteen percent would go to “major roads and highways.”
“There’s been a lot of talk about building new freeways, building new highways. That’s not what this program is about. This is about fixing problems on the existing system,” Leonardo said.
Waiting until 2024 would place Measure C on the ballot in a presidential year, which “tend to be more divisive. We prefer not to be on that ballot,” Leonardo said.
Opponents Have Equal Time
Veronica Garibay, co-executive director with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, was given equal time. She represents a coalition of community groups asking for the renewal to be on the 2024 ballot.
“I want to be clear about something because there seems to be a rumor that we do not support Measure C. We do,” Garibay said.
Garibay spent much of her time criticizing the makeup of the Measure C committees. She also said the process lacked transparency and didn’t engage in sufficient public outreach.
“There’s minimal investment in climate resilience and environmental sustainability … which is backward investments to what is needed to confront the magnitude of the climate crisis in our community,” Garibay said.
The community coalition also cited what it sees as shortcomings: no local workforce requirements and no performance metrics.
“Let’s not gamble with the future of our youth, with future generations, because that’s what we’re doing,” Garibay said.
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Council Has Its Say
Several councilmembers asked Leonardo technical questions on how the money would be spent, where, and why.
For example, councilman Tyler Maxwell talked about his advocacy for public transportation. He said the median income for Fresno bus ridership is $13,000, well below poverty. He questioned whether the Measure C renewal would support those goals.
“While there are some things I do like in this measure, public transportation is one of my top priorities. And frankly, I’m not sure I can support a measure that doesn’t support our working-class families,” Maxwell said.
Arias was concerned about sprawl and the city having its voice heard.
“I don’t feel that it is fiducially responsible to sign up for $7 billion with a plan that’s been out publicly for a month and dependent on a body where we are clearly, as a city, disadvantaged in the final decision,” Arias said.
Three governmental agencies have a direct say in the timing of the Measure C renewal. The Fresno Council of Governments — an agency made up of the incorporated cities in the county and the county itself — will vote on whether to approve the renewal plan at its June 30 meeting. Public comments on the plan will be taken through June 27.
FCTA — the agency created when Measure C first passed in 1986 to oversee spending — will vote on July 20.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for when Measure C goes on the ballot. The board has an Aug. 12 deadline to decide.