Board Backs Bill to Shift Sales Tax Uses

Borrowing an idea from a Ventura councilman, county supervisors are supporting legislation that would allow voter-approved sales taxes to generate money for preserving open space as well as for improving roads.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously agreed to support a bill in Sacramento that would alter the law so that special half-cent sales tax measures could be used to purchase farmland or undeveloped property in addition to supporting transportation projects.

Earlier this year, the Ventura County Transportation Commission scrapped plans to put a measure on the November ballot that would raise the sales tax from 7 1/4 cents to 7 3/4 cents. The measure would have raised more than $500 million for transportation projects over the next two decades.

But panel members said they did not think that they could muster enough support among county voters, who rejected a similar measure four years ago.

Ventura Councilman Steve Bennett suggested at the time that the measure would gain popularity if it helped preserve open space as well as pay for transportation projects. Some voters, he said, oppose such sales tax measures because they believe that improving roads will lead to rampant development.

But the Legislature has never given counties the authority to draft such mixed-use sales tax measures.

Supervisors Susan K. Lacey and Maria VanderKolk, who brought the matter to the board, emphasized that support of the legislation did not mean that the supervisors wanted to hike taxes at this time. They just want the flexibility to consider it in the future.

"It is a creative way to combine the needs we've had in the past," VanderKolk said.

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