APTA | Passenger Transport
September 22, 2008

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Public Transit Issues on the Ballot Across the Nation

vote artPublic transportation is on the minds of many Americans, but it’s also an important topic on the Nov. 4 ballot for municipalities in 14 states throughout the U.S. Seven of the ballot measures are in California, with two each in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon.

Voters in Jonesboro, AR, will have the opportunity to decide the future of the Jonesboro Economical Transportation System (JETS) three years after its establishment. If this measure fails, JETS will begin to cut back on service in 2009 unless it can identify another source of funding.

A statewide ballot measure in California authorizes the sale of $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to cover the preliminary costs of a proposed high-speed rail system. Proposition 1A includes fiscal controls for taxpayer protection. If approved, the new service would enter service in about a decade.

Property owners in California’s Alameda and Contra Costa counties could vote to double their parcel tax to $48 a year to fund AC Transit bus service under a proposal endorsed by the transit agency’s governing board. AC Transit administrators proposed the tax increase as an alternative to raising fares.

Measure R in Los Angeles County provides for a quarter-cent sales tax increase for road and public transportation projects, including the beginning of the “subway to the sea.”

Monterey County voters have a ballot measure that in part will provide for bus service improvements and transportation for the elderly and persons with disabilities, funded by a 25-year, half-cent sales tax and state and federal matching funds.

In Santa Barbara County, CA, voters will have a chance to renew the current half-cent sales tax for transportation before it expires in April 2010. An earlier measure providing for a 30-year renewal of the tax failed in 2006. Measure D, originally approved in 1989, supports roads and transit in the county; the renewal is on the ballot as Measure A.

A new law allows the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, CA, to place a sales tax of one-eighth-cent on the November ballot in Santa Clara County. The measure would support transit projects, including expansion of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.

In the California counties of Sonoma and Marin, voters will have another opportunity to consider a quarter-cent sales tax to support the proposed Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit line. A similar measure lost in 2006 by slightly more than 1 percent. SMART’s plans call for a 70?mile passenger train service on the existing publicly?owned right-of-way between Cloverdale and Larkspur, along with a parallel bicycle pedestrian pathway connecting all 14 train stations.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) in Aspen, CO, is asking voters to approve a sales tax increase of 0.4 percent to help implement Bus Rapid Transit, and the issuance of $38 million in bonds to launch the expansion of the bus system. RFTA serves six municipalities—Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and New Castle—and two counties, Eagle and Pitkin.

A measure on the ballot in Weld and Larimer counties, CO, would create a regional transportation authority that could levy up to a 1 percent sales tax.

Honolulu voters will consider an amendment to the city and county charter that would establish a proposed $3.7 billion commuter rail system. A separate measure proposed by rail opponents failed to get on the ballot.

Voters in Lawrence, KS, will consider two separate sales tax proposals: a .2 percent transit tax proposal and a .3 percent infrastructure sales tax. Lawrence City Commissioners proposed the taxes because of concerns about funding for local public transportation.

Kalamazoo County, MI, is proposing a property tax millage to pay for transit services over the next four years. The levy would start at .63 mills in 2008, gradually increasing each year, and ending at .86 mills in 2011. This new millage would replace two expiring taxes: 1.38 mill for residents of Kalamazoo and 0.38 mill for the rest of the county.

Spring Lake, MI, is asking voters to consider a .98 millage to finance the village’s share of Harbor Transit bus service for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011. Costs for the transit service have escalated dramatically over the past year; the only other time the village used a millage to fund public transit was from 1976 to 1979.

In Kansas City, MO, voters will decide on a measure for a 25-year, three-eighths-cent sales tax increase to fund a 14-mile light rail starter system. Earlier this year, Kansas City voters renewed the same level of tax to finance bus operations.

A half-cent increase in the transit sales tax will be on the ballot in St. Louis. Proposition M allocates half of the increase for maintenance of the existing Metro transit system and the other half for expansion of MetroLink light rail.

Several New Mexico counties will consider a ballot measure proposing an increase of one-eighth cent per dollar to the gross receipts tax for transportation purposes. In the Rio Metro Transit District, which includes Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia counties, half the revenue would be dedicated to the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter rail system, and the other half to surface transportation projects within the counties. In the North Central Regional Transit District, covering Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Taos counties, only Santa Fe County would dedicate half the tax revenues to Rail Runner; the other counties would use the tax revenue for local bus and van projects.

Two transportation-related measures are on the November ballot in Washoe County, NV. One authorizes an additional one-eighth of 1 percent general sales and use tax to be used for public transit, and the other would show support for state legislation that would allow additional funding for transportation projects.

A quarter-cent sales tax measure that failed earlier this year in Mahoning County, OH, is back on the ballot. The Western Reserve Transit Authority in Youngstown has expressed concern that it may shut down if voters do not approve the measure.

In Bend, OR, voters will consider a measure that would create a separately funded transit district to support Bend Area Transit (BAT); funds would come from a property tax of $.393 per $1,000 assessed property value. The Bend City Council made cuts to BAT funding earlier this year, and the agency is looking at much deeper cuts if this measure does not pass.

Salem-Keizer Transit in Salem, OR, has a ballot measure asking for a levy of $.49 per $1,000 in assessed property value to sustain transit service at current levels while adding service to overcrowded routes. If the measure does not pass, the system anticipates service cuts. Also on the ballot is a $99.8 million transportation bond for roads and bridges.

A ballot measure in Allegheny County, PA, would repeal the county’s 10 percent
drink tax and increase property taxes to pay for public transportation through the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Voters in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, WA, the region served by Seattle’s Sound Transit, will consider a 15-year mass transit package that increases express bus and commuter rail service and creates a 53-mile regional light rail system. Funding would come from a one-half percent increase of the local sales tax, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase.

A half-cent local sales tax dedicated to public transportation is on the ballot in Milwaukee, WI.

Voters in municipalities across the United States approved approximately 67 percent of public transportation-related ballot measures during 2007.


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