How many tax measures will voters be willing to support – especially during a down economy?
That may be the big question going into the fall.
The Marin Board of Supervisors today tentatively voted to move ahead with a quarter-cent sales tax for open space (and other items), and it has supporters of the SMART train nervous.
Why? Because the vote comes less than a week after directors of the SMART rail line also voted to put a quarter-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot in Marin and Sonoma counties.
As former Marin County Supervisor Cynthia Murray, now co-chair of the SMART campaign, just said to me over the phone, even with the strong support SMART has among North Bay voters, “having a competing measure is never good.”
At the same time, Murray says she’s also worried about competition from the city of Santa Rosa, where city officials are considering a quarter-cent sales-tax measure in the fall to help pay city expenses. “I’m at a risk-averse position,” she said. “It’s a critical time for us to pass this SMART tax measure.”
Before this, supporters of the train had reason to be optimistic. A recent poll by Godbe Research showed 77 percent of likely North Bay voters supported the train. The level of support was 71 percent in Marin County and an amazing 83 percent in Sonoma County.
But that poll did not ask about the impact of competing tax measures.
SMART supporters will note that Sonoma County voters in 2006 showed strong support for both an open space tax as well as a train tax. But on this issue, Marin is not Sonoma County – and 2006 is not 2008.

SPECIAL NOTE: Some who have left comments recently have raised questions about whether the SMART tax needs two-thirds in both Marin and Sonoma counties or the two counties combined. In this case, it’s the latter. Sonoma and Marin are considered one special district and thus the votes are combined. A similar tax measure received just 57 percent support in Marin County, but it still nearly passed because of the 69 percent vote it received in Sonoma County.
– Paul Gullixson