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8 Takeaways from RCTC's Support of SB1

By: Bill Higgins on Feb 15, 2018
8 Things We Like About RCTC Support of SB 1
Last month, the Riverside County Transportation Commission voted to protect new transportation revenues by supporting Proposition 69 and opposing the effort to repeal SB1. Read their full statement here. Riverside County is one of the State’s fastest growing regions and politically is a significant “purple” county that eludes the typical "red" or "blue" classification.  RCTC's action is also notable because of their inclusion and consideration of multiple perspectives before the final action was tallied.  
We really like how RCTC presented the information.  It’s clear, accessible, and informative.  Here are eight lessons that other regions should take into account as they draft their own reports.
  1. Start With A Descriptive Title. The title clearly states values that voters will understand: protecting and maintaining new transportation revenues. They avoid the common mistake of referring to the bill (SB 1) or proposition (69) in the title, which can confuse potential voters who are not yet familiar with the specific proposals.  The direct title lets the reader know the substance of the issue at the outset. 

  2. Then Focus on Local Projects.  Likely voters will want to know how they will benefit from these new revenues.  RCTC responds perfectly by identifying the exact amount of funds for which each local community in the region will receive and publishing a list of regionally significant projects. This approach is easily replicated by using estimates published on the RebulidingCA website.  This effectiveness of this approach is backed by polling evidence: a recent PPIC poll (see page 16) found that 70% of the respondents (and 65% of likely voters) favor proposals to spend SB 1 gas tax and vehicle fees to repair roads and bridges, improve commute corridors, and improve local rail and public transit systems. 

  3. Include Colorful Maps and Graphs.  A picture or graph is worth a 1000 words - and it can really boost your social media posts. RCTC took the time to develop graphs to show how much more funding would be available in each community for local roads.  They also provided  maps so that residents would better understand what was at stake in Riverside County. 

  4. Identify the Regional Projects. Developing the right list of regional projects is a challenge.  Many key projects will likely draw from new SB1 competitive funding sources (like State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), Solutions for Congested Corridors, Local Partnership Program, Active Transportation Program, and Trade Corridors Enhancement Program).  But marking projects on a map before all the funds are accounted is the programmers' equivalent of counting chickens before they are hatched.  On the other hand, an overly conservative approach will underestimate the regional benefits of SB1.  RCTC handles this problem directly and with full transparency. They list two categories of regional projects: one for projects already awarded by the California Transportation Commission and another for those nominated for competitive funding by RCTC. Each type of project is listed in a different color and column on the maps.  This is a fair way to represent the potential cost of the repeal effort.  

  5. Use Plain Language, Real Numbers.  They used plain language that is easy to understand.  For example,  “in general, local governments in Riverside County will see their budget for filling potholes and fixing local streets nearly double.”  Nice! 

  6. Embrace Multiple Perspectives. In many communities, support for these positions are not going to be a slam dunk.  RCTC acknowledges that there were multiple perspectives in the discussion that lead up to taking the position that touched on concerns about raising taxes, the power of state government, and the growing need for new transportation revenues.  They also disclose that the vote was 19 to 3.  Documenting these perspectives in the process makes their adopted position stronger. 

  7. Include a Support-Oppose Position.  Remember, there are two statewide initiatives at play and two position to take.  One is for a support position to prohibit any alternative use of transportation funds and the second to oppose position on a proposed repeal of SB 1  That sounds confusing.  So its worth the time to explain both individually.  The RCTC statement takes the time to explain both separately.   Proposition 69 guarantees that new transportation revenues cannot be diverted by the Legislature and will be voted on in June.  The effort to repeal new transportation measures is still gathering signatures and if it qualifies, will be voted on in November.  
  8. Educate, Don't Advocate. RCTC limits itself to public education and does not specifically encourage anyone else to take action.  Remember the value of a public agency resolution is to help educate voters.  The support or opposition of a local agency of a particular measure indicates an official opinion about how the region will be affected.  However, the report should stop there. There are important rules that limit the use of public resources in campaigns.  Our SB 1Resources for Regions Tool Kit include a good primer on these issues from the Institute for Local Government.