Sonoma-Marin Rail Sales Tax Increase, Measure Q (November 2008)
Measure Q imposes a 1/4-cent sales tax for 20 years. Passage required a 2/3rds vote.
The funds raised from the tax are supposed to support the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District to:
- "Relieve traffic, fight global warming and increase transportation options".
- Provide two-way passenger train service every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours.
- Provide weekend service.
- Provide a bicycle/pedestrian pathway linking the stations, and connections to ferry/bus service.
- These final, certified, election results are from the Marin County elections office and the Sonoma County elections office.
Impact of 2010 recession
The rail project that is supposed to be funded by Measure Q tax proceeds began to appear vulnerable as the effects of the 2010 recession in California became manifest. A government-commissioned study suggested that below-projection tax revenues might mean that only part of the rail system could be built with the money that is available.
SMART critic Mike Arnold said in March 2010, "The reality is that SMART did not have the funds promised to voters in 2008, the money is not there today and it is not going to be there tomorrow. They are going to have to make a choice and tell people what segment they are going to build. And it won't be north of Santa Rosa that gets the service because their own ridership surveys don't support it."
Attempt to repeal
In September 2011, a group called RepealSMART began collecting signatures on an initiative with the aim of overturning Measure Q.
The motivation for the repeal effort is that because of cost increases since the vote in 2008, SMART has significantly scaled back what it intends to do with the money raised by the Measure Q sales tax. Opponents therefore have said that the voters are not getting what they voted for in 2008, and should have the opportunity to vote on the sales tax again, with the facts in front of them about the smaller rail line that SMART now plans to build. SMART's current plan, as of November 2011, is to build a line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael. This, according to the agency, would be done by about 2016.
SMART is a two-county agency (Marin County and Sonoma County). The election on the repeal initiative, if it qualifies for the ballot, will have to be administered in each of the two counties. The board of SMART decided that it, instead of county election officials, would supervise the petition process and an eventual election on a repeal measure. After the board of SMART made that decision, it ordered those supporting the repeal petition to attach a 167-word title and summary to the petitions that it devised. This 167-word statement was written by the SMART board.
The California Secretary of State said that in arrogating to itself the power to serve as an election agency, the SMART board had overstepped its bounds. Those circulating the petition therefore refused to attach the SMART-board-written statement to their petitions.
In a November 15, 2011 letter, the California Secretary of State decreed that it is the established election officials of Marin County and Sonoma County who will administer the election. In that letter, the statewide election authority also identified the section of California election code that they believe should govern the petition process. That code requires that petitioners collect about 39,000 signatures.
Ballot language controversy
After supporters and opponents of Measure Q gave their language to the Sonoma and Marin county election officials for the official ballot arguments, Measure Q supporters filed a lawsuit claiming that the ballot argument of Measure Q opponents was misleading.
On September 2, judge Elaine Rushing agreed that the argument was misleading and required a change in language.
- "Freight train operations and gravel mining, facilitated by SMART, would severely damage the Eel River and its threatened salmon and steelhead."
- "NCRA freight trains and gravel mining, if facilitated by SMART, might damage the Eel River and its threatened salmon and steelhead."