A recent poll to gauge voter sentiment on a new half-cent county tax for transportation projects seems to indicate people are concerned about traffic congestion but there is work to be done to meet the two-thirds threshold for approval.

Included in the poll was support for a quarter-cent payroll tax on businesses with more than 100 employees.

Jon Mays

This poll is amidst a discussion on a variety of new proposals for tax measures that are aiming at a soft spot for anyone who travels our roads, and that is congestion. There is Senate Bill 1 that raised fuel taxes and registration fees aimed at addressing a backlog of transportation projects. There is Regional Measure 3 in the works that is proposing an additional $3 for each bridge toll and now this. There is also discussion of an eighth-cent sales tax to help Caltrain establish a dedicated funding stream instead of constantly relying on contributions from the governments of the three counties it serves. The proposed Caltrain tax is its own issue but it is connected because it is aimed at alleviating traffic. The others have the same goal, alleviating traffic, or at least managing it with various levels of tactics and theories such as express lanes that will charge drivers to use them.

Everyone knows traffic is bad basically at any time right now. It’s much worse than 15 years ago. What exactly is the cause of this traffic?

It doesn’t take a government official or transit engineer to know it is the impact of all those jobs we’ve been packing in here since the recovery began more than seven years ago. It certainly doesn’t help that the cost of living is rising and more lower- and middle-income earners are being forced to other side of the Bay while employment centers remain here.

Thing is though, state law currently doesn’t allow for local governments to implement a payroll tax so it’s not necessarily clear why it was included in the poll. Yet it was. And I’m glad. It is also fairly clear that businesses with more than 100 employees wouldn’t be so keen on such a measure since they would have to pay for it, and it might be seen as an obstacle to drawing new businesses here.

But at this point, would it be so bad to create a bit of an obstacle? After the Great Recession, everyone cheered when new jobs arrived here. After all, recovery is good right? Yes, and no. We have all seen the impact of new jobs on not only traffic but housing and the very character of this place we call home. Countless many are struggling to make it here, and they aren’t the ones who just arrived for these new tech jobs. It’s the common man and woman.

And yet when we talk about who should pay for improvements to traffic congestion, an increase in the bridge toll and an increase in the sales tax will be felt in the pockets of the very common man and woman we ostensibly care so much about and want to protect and retain as part of our diverse character. The new workers in their buses lumbering down the highway won’t feel the effect as much and certainly have more means to absorb it. And yet we seem to be catering to the cause of our traffic and increased housing prices at the cost to everyone else.

Why is that? I get that we don’t want to provide a disincentive to these large, groundbreaking companies — you know, the Googles, the Facebooks, the Apples — and want to show appreciation. But even mining towns formed governments to ensure that the impact of the economic driver ensured the quality of life for all. Isn’t that the essence of a representative democracy? We the people make up a government that ensures everyone pays their fair share for the impact of their activities, and clearly new workers are creating an impact felt by all. Why should the average person who is not the cause of the problem be asked to pay for the solution?

State law may preclude a payroll tax by local governments right now but I know of several state legislators who represent San Mateo County in Sacramento who could carry a bill to change that. It is an idea worth exploring.

Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jon@smdailyjournal.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.

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(9) comments

Tim E Strinden

Thanks, Jon, for proposing a solution that is more creative and fair than the easy choices of raising sales taxes and bridge tolls. Sales taxes are regressive and high enough, and bridge tolls unfairly burden those who use bridges regularly, in order to benefit all of us. Those easy choices are often promoted without fully exploring ways to operate more efficiently, which require making difficult choices and facing strong opposition from special interests.
I agree with KDM that we should encourage development in other parts of the Bay Area where land is underutilized, and a payroll tax may help do that.


It seems only fair to state the truth, the city's along the peninsula have been approving more and more high density mixed use housing, greatly exacerbating the traffic problems greatly while destroying the small town cultures we all moved here for and more is coming. Projects like the Grand Blvd initiative are designed to further exacerbate our traffic problems. This is by design trying to force people into public transportation. Another case of bureaucrats thinking they know what's best for everyone else. Why should we trust them with more tax dollars for transportation projects when they can't even seem to be able to fill potholes in our decaying streets but they seem to get their precious bike paths done quickly.


Thank you for your well written article Jon. There is a partial solution to our future traffic problem: have large firms build housing on their own campus. Google is doing it, Facebook is doing it, why not other large companies as well? Cities are being unfairly pressured by these large companies to build more housing for their employees. Well, solution, cities should force these companies to, if they want to expand or create a company here, to create housing on their own campus. College of San Mateo has housing for its professors and is working very well, why not the tech companies and the biotech companies too? Instead of companies demanding cities to build more housing for their employees, cities and counties need to demand companies to build their own housing.


Finally someone with the courage to say the real cause of the problem: there are more people working here than can be housed here. Meanwhile huge swaths of land in the east bay remain underutilized. A smart corporation would build their campus where their employees have lots of housing options, and can afford a quality of life that will make them better employees.


Great summation of the current tax measures being circulated, Jon. Of all of them, the one that concerns me the most is RM3. It raises a tax on the people who cannot afford to rent or purchase a house on the Peninsula to live close to where they work. While all of the projects under consideration are great projects, it seems to me to be a more regressive tax than even a sales tax. First we push people away from the Peninsula with high housing costs, then charge them more to come back in. People that can afford to live here, like me, won't get hit with the tax. Big businesses should contribute more to their local governments to combat the traffic caused by their success, whether through a payroll tax or through other means.

Christopher Conway

Then break out your checkbook Josh and write a check if you feel you should pay more. We will all give you a pat on the back for your contribution. As for calling for taxes on others, we are taxed enough already thank you very much.


You worried me Chris. Your pungent posts towards almost everybody here who have ideas of their own - never go without your evil digs. Maybe Mrs.Conway agrees with Josh Powell.

jack bauer

Your views on additional taxes are so on target, Christopher. The lower/middle class here will never get ahead if government continues to grab more and more money from the wallets of our folks. No more taxes!

jack bauer

Sir, how much more in taxes do you want business to pay? Be specific, please. How much?

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