By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The number of signatures needed for a ballot measure to repeal the quarter-percent sales tax for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district may be half of what was first projected.
Instead of close to 40,000 signatures, Repeal SMART may only need to collect about 15,000 in Sonoma and Marin counties to get a measure on the ballot.
The Sonoma County registrar’s office said a final ruling has not been made, but it has drawn a preliminary conclusion that a 5 percent threshold, rather than 10 percent, likely will be enforced.
“The jury is still out,” said Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters in Sonoma County. “There is still a question, and it is in counsel’s hands.”
Repeal SMART is organizing and about to have petitions printed even as it waits for the final word, but obviously hopes for the lower threshold, said Clay Mitchell of Windsor.
“We are cautiously optimistic, but until we have final word, we are still gearing up to collect 40,000 signatures,” Mitchell said. “It would allow us to shift our focus to make sure we get out message out, why we feel it is important.”
Mitchell said the group wants to put the issue before voters in either the June or November election in 2012.
Although two-thirds of the voters were needed to approve the sales tax, the major source of funding for SMART, only a majority is required to repeal it.
“The project is changed, it does not accomplish its goals, it does not substantially accomplish the goal of reducing congestion,” Mitchell said. “We should repeal the tax. It is impossible to accomplish what was envisioned and was was sold to voters with this funding mechanism.”
Mitchell called the low threshold “one of the vagaries of living in California.”
SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown called it unfair.
“It seems interesting that a proposition that requires two-thirds vote on any kind of issue would require such a low threshold for repeal,” Brown said. “It doesn’t seem like that was the intent. It just seems there ought to be protections both ways.”
Attorneys for both Sonoma and Marin counties are reviewing the election statutes.
To qualify a districtwide initiative for the ballot, the threshold is 10 percent of registered voters in the SMART district encompassing Sonoma and Marin counties, with almost 400,000 registered voters as of the February count.
However, Repeal SMART contends a 1996 proposition dealing specifically with tax issues lowers the threshold to what is required for a statewide initiative, or 5 percent of the voters in the last election for governor.
Under that scenario, the threshold would be about 15,000 signatures.
SMART was created by the Legislature in February 2002 by then-Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, to create and manage a commute rail line between the two counties.