In the wee hours on Thursday morning, the California Legislature concluded its 2021–2022 legislative session, including finalizing a months-long process of adopting the final details of the state budget and a weeks-long process of passing expansive climate policies.
Every time you purchase an item anywhere in Madera County, you’re charged a half cent tax to fund Measure T, our transportation sales tax. The measure generates about $10.4 million each year, yet many local streets are riddled with potholes; public transportation remains unusable due to infrequent service, long routes, and few bus stops; many schools lack crosswalks and safe drop-off and pick-up areas; and entire communities lack sidewalks and street lighting. Disadvantaged unincorporated communities and communities of color are especially overlooked, and their transportation needs have been repeatedly unaddressed by their own local sales tax dollars.
While existing communities’ transportation needs go unmet, the County is rushing to renew Measure T as a Forever Tax on the November 2022 ballot, despite its 2027 expiration date. They seek to remove its 20-year sunset clause and lock Madera County residents’ taxpayer dollars into an investment plan crafted by the Madera County Transportation Commission (MCTC), paid consultants, Madera County, Chowchilla, and Madera planners’ list of projects — and not based on meaningful resident engagement about where people actually want to see their money go.
Staff and consultants propose to continue using a hefty chunk of Madera County residents’ taxpayer dollars to subsidize sprawl development and polluting industries by using Measure T taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of road expansions while footing the bill for goods movement industries’ impacts on local roads. This plan would create additional miles of roadway when the County is already unable to maintain existing roads; it would fail to address the needs of existing communities, and it would worsen air quality. Meanwhile, Madera County ranks number one in the state for asthma-related emergency room visits.
A Forever Tax is undemocratic, as it strips younger generations of the ability to vote on future transportation funding investments. It is also unwise and short-sighted from a transportation planning perspective; Madera County has changed drastically since Measure T was first passed in 1990 and renewed in 2006. Despite our best efforts at predicting the region’s future, we cannot know what unforeseen challenges and new technologies we will be facing in the year 2047 and beyond. An investment plan created in 2022 may be completely irrelevant in another ten years at the rapid rate that climate change, new technologies, a shifting economy, drought, and a global pandemic are reshaping our society and our region, and when changes get made to the Measure T investment plan, voters deserve the right to get to approve or reject those changes at the ballot.
Measure T doesn’t expire until 2027, so there is no need to rush the renewal. Instead of pushing a Forever Tax on this November’s ballot, we call on elected officials and MCTC staff to initiate a truly equitable and community-driven Measure T renewal process over the course of the next 18 months for the 2024 ballot. Madera County residents should be deeply and meaningfully engaged in a community-driven process led by neutral facilitators. A community-driven process also requires that barriers to participation be eliminated by meeting communities where they live and work and by providing language access, transportation, childcare, and accessible meeting times and locations.
Since Madera County taxpayers are paying for Measure T, they should get to decide how long the renewed Measure should last and where the money will go. Today and tomorrow’s Madera County residents deserve to have equitable, reliable, and affordable transportation options, live in a healthy environment, and feel proud of the community legacy they are passing on to the next generation. Let’s make this happen the right way — together.