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Lessons Learned from 40 Years of Local Option Transportation Sales Taxes in California


Jurisdictions across the United States have increasingly turned to local option sales taxes, or LOSTs, to fund transportation projects and programs. California is an enthusiastic adopter of these measures; since 1976, residents in over half of the state’s 58 counties have voted on 76 LOST measures. As of 2017, 24 counties, home to 88% of the state’s population, have LOST measures in place. Many counties have enacted multiple measures, with passage rates especially high among renewal and follow-on measures. This research is the first comprehensive analysis of LOST measures; drawing on measure expenditure plans to determine the range and frequency of transportation projects and services funded. This detailed review of expenditure plans across dozens of urban, suburban, and rural California counties offers insight on these measures and the projects and programs they fund. Overall, this study finds that LOSTs are heterogeneous, often including something for nearly every interest group. Almost all of the measures studied dedicate funding to a mix of transportation modes, including highways, public transit, local road maintenance, and active transportation. Expenditures on particular modes vary, reflecting transportation geography across counties. On average, 60% of LOST expenditures in California fund road projects and over 30% are allocated to public transit. Measures often dedicate a substantially larger share of revenue to transit relative to transit’s mode share. Finally, LOSTs typically appeal to diverse local interests by returning a portion of revenues to local jurisdictions to address local priority projects.

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