Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation to Set Voter Approval for Transportation Funding Measures at 55%

Amendment to the State Constitution would set approval threshold for local revenue measures dedicated to transportation projects to be the same as the threshold for school facilities funding measures
February 13, 2017

Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) announced the introduction of a Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 to set the voter approval threshold for transportation funding measures at 55%, down from the current threshold of 2/3, or 66.6%. This would put transportation funding measures on the same level as school funding measures, which were set at 55% by California voters in the year 2000. SCA 6 requires a 2/3 approval in the state legislature to be placed on the ballot, where it then requires majority approval by the voters.

“We've neglected our transportation systems for decades, and we're now paying the price with deteriorated roads, bridges, and public transportation systems,” said Senator Wiener. “To meaningfully address our transportation needs - which will reduce congestion, grow our economy, fight climate change, and help low-income workers - we need to change how we approve these funding measures. By setting the voting threshold at 55%, we can more effectively pass these critical infrastructure measures, and also encourage local governments to create more aggressive funding packages.”

SCA 6 would amend the California Constitution to allow cities, counties, and special districts to raise new revenues for transportation projects by meeting 55% of the vote. This would lower the threshold from the current 2/3 (66%) for dedicated taxes and bonds, and place transportation funding measures on the same approval level as school facilities funding measures, which are currently set at 55%.

California roads and bridges are underfunded by $11 billion per year, and a 2015 Governor’s report calculated $59 billion in deferred maintenance.  While transportation funding measures are pending in both houses of the state legislature, it’s unclear how much of that funding will go towards public transportation needs. To address the significant funding gaps and deferred maintenance, local governments and special districts have been putting forth funding measures to fund transportation projects, generally sales taxes and bonds, which both require 2/3 vote approval. SCA 6 will create a more reasonable threshold for gaining approval from voters for public transportation needs.

“Public transportation agencies like BART need to make significant capital and operational investments if we are going to continue to serve our growing population," said Nick Josefowitz, a member of the BART Board of Directors. "By setting the voting threshold for these essential public improvements at 55%, our agencies will have an opportunity to better address the needs of our riders who rely on us to get to work, to visit friends and families, and to live their lives without always having to rely on private automobiles.”

Senator Wiener has been working with transportation groups, environmental organizations, and social justice advocates to build support for SCA 6.

“Two-thirds is a very high bar to reach in many parts of the state that desperately need more investment in smart transportation infrastructure,” said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, which promotes walkable communities with excellent transportation choices to connect people of all incomes to opportunity, keep California affordable and help solve our climate crisis. “It would be great to reduce the voting threshold for transportation projects that help California meet our climate goals and advance social equity.”

“As a state, we've set ambitious climate and equity goals for ourselves. We know that a robust and effective transportation system is essential if we want a strong environment where all Californians can thrive,” said Chanell Fletcher, Associate Director of ClimatePlan, a coalition formed to improve land use and transportation planning to protect Californian’s health, communities, environment, and climate. “Lowering the threshold for transit funding makes it easier for communities to expand and maintain their transit systems, which means more Californians can travel to school, work, and home without a car. This also helps clean our air and reduce our climate impacts on the environment.”

Under SCA 6, to qualify for the 55% threshold, a funding measure has to be fully dedicated to transportation-related projects and programs. Transportation funding is usually classified for capital, which includes surface rail lines, subways, and roads, or operations, which includes bus maintenance, buying new buses or rail cars, upgrading existing metro lines, increasing service, and supplementing reduced fare programs. This constitutional amendment encompasses both.

SCA 6 will require a 2/3 approval by the State Legislature to be placed on the ballot for the next scheduled statewide election, which is set for June of 2018. During that election, the measure must be approved by a majority of the voters. 

Contact: Jeff Cretan, jeff.cretan@sen.ca.gov