New Funds - Same Concerns
Agriculture, business, and labor depend on Imperial Valley’s roads for transportation of harvests, products, and people. Deteriorating roads not only reduce productivity, but risk vehicle damage, endangering public safety, and unnecessary added public expense due to decades of deferred maintenance. COLAB believes that an investment in public roads is an investment for Imperial County’s economic growth and safety. Innovative roads solutions can reduce public cost and improve the conditions of public roads for the benefit our farms, businesses, workforce, and public as a whole.
Several years ago, the Coalition of Labor, Agricultural and Business (COLAB)-Imperial County opposed Measure D. Measure D is a “self-help” sales tax with ½ cent on all retail sales within the County of Imperial with the proceeds for transportation improvements. Our concern was that the funding would not be effectively used. Measure D passed in 2008, and we all now pay that ½ cent on any retail taxable goods purchased in Imperial County. In some ways, it has been a good source of income for the county, in particular as our traffic population swells with the inclusion of individuals who live across the border – both in Mexico and Arizona – and work in the county. The sales tax created by Measure D offers a way to capture funds to help address the added wear and tear on our roads generated by those who work here but may not reside in the county. While these workers do not pay a fee to use our roads, they do pay the sales tax on goods purchased here. We are advised that 48% of the sales tax comes from residents in Mexicali.
On April 6, the State Legislators, with the support of Governor Jerry Brown, imposed a mammoth tax increase, which will raise an estimated $50 billion over the next 10 years to be used for transportation infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Specifically, gas taxes will rise 12 cents per gallon. Diesel fuel would be impacted in two ways: an increase in the diesel excise tax by 20 cents a gallon, and an increase of the diesel sales tax to 5.75 percent.
COLAB has been quite vocal on the conditions of our county roads. The response by those responsible has been that the county lacks enough funding to perform the necessary improvements, and to even maintain the road system.
So now the region—that is, the County and the incorporated cities, are projected to receive approximately $16 million a year for the road infrastructure with the majority of it accrued to the County due to its extensive network of roads. This, coupled with Measure D money, still will be insufficient to repair all the roads, especially in the first several years. At the projected cost of $1 million per mile for improvements to paved roads, and a network of 2,555 miles of roads, of which 1,349 miles are paved and 1,206 miles are unpaved, the money will not go far. It, however, will be a start, and must be used wisely.
The concern, of course, was and will continue to be the proper and efficient use of the funding. The new Director of Public Work, John Gay, has listened to our concerns, as has the Board of Supervisors. They, however, have not until now had the funding to make a meaningful difference. This funding will change that.
COLAB has asked and will continue to ask for greater public input as to which roads are on the list for improvement and their priority. You drive the roads – daily – and you know which ones in your area are the worst. COLAB will continue to seek accountability for the use of the funds. While we will be the very squeaky wheel, we will do so based on the needs of the users. We welcome your input. Contact us at Kay@colabimperial.com