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San Diegans May Vote on Sales Tax Hike

Times Staff Writer

Despite unexpected last-minute opposition, a bill that will allow San Diego voters to raise their sales tax to pay for transportation projects was sent to the governor Friday.

Under the bill by Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista), voters may be asked in November, 1986, to raise the 6% state sales tax in San Diego County anywhere from one-quarter of a cent to a full penny per dollar.

The San Diego Assn. of Governments (Sandag) would become a taxing authority for the first time. Board members would become directors of a new entity called the San Diego County Regional Transportation Commission, which would oversee the portion of funds provided by the tax increase and would decide on needed street, freeway and transit projects.

The new taxing authority began as a non-controversial “district bill” with no opposition when Deddeh added it to an innocuous measure regarding loitering at transit stops.

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Deddeh, who carried the bill at the request of regional planners, transit officials and local governments in San Diego County, refused to introduce the legislation until he was assured that it had broad local support.

Legislators usually yield to local wishes on bills that affect only one county.

But during the final weeks of the session, the transportation tax bill survived several close calls before winning final approval on the last day of the legislative session.

The Senate approved it, 28-3, Friday. A day earlier, the Assembly narrowly approved it, 43-27, after several Republicans argued that it violated the spirit of Proposition 13. Several Orange County legislators said it ignored the mistakes of their 1984 local measure, Proposition A.

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The Republican opposition, which surfaced in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee last month and nearly defeated the measure there, was based on provisions that will allow a majority of voters to approve a tax increase. Under Proposition 13, the 1978 statewide property-tax-slashing initiative, the Republicans contend that it should take two-thirds of the county’s voters to raise taxes.

The bill passed the committee with the minimum vote. Earlier this week, the bill advanced by the minimum vote again after Assembly Public Investments Committee Chairman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) forced a special hearing to change technical bonding provisions he did not like.

Orange County lawmakers, meanwhile, argued that Deddeh’s bill would “repeat the mistake” of a similar transportation tax proposal there, which was defeated by more than a 3-to-1 margin last year, although proponents outspent foes by more than 16-to-1. It was the second most-expensive local ballot measure in state history.

But Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) got Assembly approval of the measure by a two- vote margin (it needed 41 votes) by arguing that San Diego voters could adequately rebuke their own politicians if they did not like the idea of a tax hike.

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Although Los Angeles County voters approved a tax increase in 1980 and Santa Clara County voters approved one earlier this year, transportation tax elections of all kinds have historically fared poorly in the state.

In 1982, six counties--including San Diego--took advantage of new authority and placed “local option fuel tax” increases on local ballots. All six were soundly defeated.

A pre-election poll commissioned by Sandag had predicted that 61% of voters favored a fuel tax hike to pay for safer roads. But when votes were counted, 62% of the voters said no.

It was a similar Sandag-commissioned poll that prompted local officials to ask Deddeh to introduce legislation authorizing the tax election this year.

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