Sales tax measures on the Nov. 6 ballot for neighboring Orinda and Moraga offer disparate approaches to fixing deteriorating roads.
Orinda's decaying streets need $52 million of repairs in part because officials couldn't rally two-thirds voter support for past bond measures to fix them. Moraga's bill is half as much and town leaders want to make sure their bill doesn't escalate to the level of the city next door.
Orinda leaders are asking voters for just some of the needed money with warnings there will be future requests for more. Moraga leaders are seeking enough to fix roads now and maintain them in the future.
Neither measure is ideal, but they are the best solutions to difficult funding and political dilemmas. Hence, we endorse Measures L in Orinda and K in Moraga.
Measure L would increase the sales tax in Orinda by a half-cent on the dollar for 10 years, raising the current rate from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. The next phases of the road-repair plan call for property tax increases in 2016 and 2020, and then another vote in 2022 to extend the sales tax. City leaders hope that once residents see some of the road improvements they will be willing to fund more.
Moraga leaders are taking an all-at-once strategy. Measure K seeks a sales tax for twice as long, 20 years, and twice as much, a penny on the dollar. Town leaders plan to use the steady revenue stream as security to float bonds for immediate road repairs.
However, the increase would raise the sales tax rate in the city to 9.25 percent, the highest in the East Bay, matched only by El Cerrito and Union City. We generally dislike single-city sales tax increases because they are regressive and they put the city at a competitive disadvantage.
But, in this case, we're willing to accept the regressivity because the sales tax is probably the best option, the town is economically relatively well-off and the city is operated very frugally. We worry about the possible effect on sales if residents go elsewhere for their shopping, but we also recognize that Moraga is relatively isolated and doesn't have big-box retailers, so the effect will probably not be as significant.
A word of caution to Orinda and Moraga residents: They must carefully watch how the money is spent because Measures K and L will raise unrestricted general fund money.
Because of California's irrational tax rules, a sales tax measure that carries no restrictions on how the money is spent requires only majority voter approval. But taxing options that restrict the use of the money to road repairs would require two-thirds approval. That's why past Orinda measures failed.
Both city councils promise to spend the funds on roads. But council members change over time. It will be up to voters to make sure they elect representatives who respect the measures' intents.
Go to www.contracostatimes.com/endorsements to view our list of voter recommendations and our Editorial Board video candidate interviews of various races.