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Tax hike for transportation projects to appear on November ballot

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SAN DIEGO -- The board of directors of the San Diego Association of Governments voted Friday to go ahead with a proposed November ballot measure that would increase funding for infrastructure projects around the county.

SANDAG proposes to raise the sales tax countywide by a half-cent, with funds paying for freeway projects, road repairs, public transit, management of open space and complying with state water quality mandates.

The $18.2 billion plan drew opposition from environmental groups and some organized labor, who contend that spending on freeway and road projects would worsen climate change. Some union representatives spoke out in favor of the plan, however.

San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria said the sales tax increase would raise billions of dollars for local cities for infrastructure improvements, $7.5 billion for public transit, $2 billion to preserve open space, and $500 million for bicycle projects, among other things. It would also increase frequencies for buses and trolleys, he said.

"If you're sitting out there and you're waiting 30 minutes, an hour, for a bus or trolley, this is going to be reducing that if it's approved,'' Gloria said.

"I think that's meaningful, I think that will transform lives and make our region's quality of life much better,'' the councilman said. "This is real money, and without it we're going to have the status quo around here for a very long time.''

He and other supporters of the ballot measure conceded that no one will get everything they want.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer cast a dissenting vote following about two hours of public comment, followed by remarks of the local mayors and council members who comprise the SANDAG board.

"(Transportation) is so important that this plan is asking San Diegans to consider raising taxes on themselves and a super-majority, of course, would have to think that this is a good idea for this to pass at the ballot box,'' Faulconer said. "Clearly, based on today's testimony, I don't think we're there yet.''

According to a poll taken about one month ago, 68 percent of 1,200 respondents were inclined to vote for the measure when they read the proposed ballot summary -- above the two-thirds that would be necessary for passage of a tax hike.

However, when the respondents were given arguments for and against the plan, support dropped to 62 percent, below the threshold.

The SANDAG ballot measure could be the third major one of its type that voters would consider in November. The Chargers are collecting signatures for their plan to build a stadium and convention center annex in the East Village, while signatures are being verified on a multi-faceted initiative that would, among other things, clear the way for a university expansion at the Qualcomm Stadium site.