November 9, 2009
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Voters on Nov. 3 Say ‘Yes’ to Transit Ballot Initiatives
Nationwide, there were seven public transit-related ballot initiatives for voters’ consideration on Nov. 3—fewer than in previous years. Of these measures, four pro-transit ones passed, and one anti-transit measure was defeated. Taking into account two transit-related initiatives that passed earlier in the year, transit’s success rate for 2009 is 70 percent, with one more election to come next month in Oklahoma City, OK.
“These votes for public transportation speak loud and clear: the public wants more public transportation service and is willing to pay for it,” said APTA President William Millar. “At a time when unemployment is high and economic uncertainty is foremost in people’s minds, you might not expect people to tax themselves for better public transit services. The fact that a majority of transit- related ballot initiatives passed means that people recognize the value of public transportation.”
Voters in Fountain, CO, approved a 0.75 percent sales tax increase for transportation improvements, maintenance, and service—with 50.4 percent in favor and 49.6 percent opposed. One-third of the tax will support public transportation when the tax goes into effect Jan. 1, 2010; the rest will cover capital and safety improvements to streets and public street resurfacing. The tax increase will raise $1.352 million in the first fiscal year.
Voters in Kalamazoo and Flint, MI, approved property tax millages of 0.6 mills, or 60 cents per $1,000 of the taxable value of property, to support public transportation.
The Kalamazoo measure received 76 percent of the vote. William Schomisch, executive director of Kalamazoo Metro Transit, explained that the city has been operating on its savings since last year after the defeat of a county-wide millage that would have covered both the city and the surrounding area.
He added that Metro Transit is a city department with a millage only in the city since 1986. In 2006, however, it became part of a county-wide authority, and that year county voters approved a millage specifically for demand-response service.
“After last year’s defeat, we designed a three-part plan to fund transit service,” Schomisch said. “First was a county-wide millage for demand-response and fixed route services outside Kalamazoo, which passed in May. Next was the city millage specifically to fund fixed routes within the city, which passed yesterday. Now we’re looking toward a fare increase, which the city commission still has to approve, but we expect it to begin in January 2010.”
Had the millage not passed, Metro Transit’s fund balance would have covered only bus service through the summer.
The measure in Flint, which passed with 67.6 percent of the vote, renewed an existing 0.6-mill property tax for five years to support the Mass Transportation Authority. The agency estimates that this measure will generate about $814,164 in the first fiscal year it is collected.
Voters across Maine approved a $71.25 million statewide transportation bond to support a variety of investments that include transit. The vote on Question 6 was 65 percent in favor of the measure, 35 percent opposed.
The bond will provide approximately $4 million for rail investments, along with $55 million for highways and bridges. A new Critical Rail Corridors Program will be funded with $2 million from the measure after a statewide rail plan required and funded by the federal government identifies critical rail corridors in the passenger and freight rail system.
The bond will also help Maine leverage more than $148 million in matching funds from federal, local, and private sources. It is expected to provide a total $219 million for transportation infrastructure and support as many as 4,600 jobs.
A charter amendment in Cincinnati that would have required a popular vote to approve any passenger rail project was defeated (56 percent opposed, 44 percent in favor).
The measure could have placed significant constraints on plans for a $185 million, 7.9-mile streetcar project, so its defeat is viewed as a “yes” vote in analyzing which initiatives were successful in terms of advancing public transportation.
Before the election, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board spoke out against the measure, noting that, “as drafted, Issue 9 will have a negative impact on SORTA’s ability to secure funding and negatively impact SORTA’s ability to expand the region’s public transportation system in the future and hamper SORTA’s ability to creatively respond to the needs of the region and our customers ability to access jobs, healthcare and vital community services.”
Public transit was only one component of Measure 2C in Colorado Springs, CO, which voters opposed by an overwhelming margin. This initiative would have increased the city’s property tax by 10 mills over 5 years, and also included community centers, pools, parks, and police and fire departments, as the city foresees a shortfall of more than $25 million in 2010.
Had it passed, Measure 2C would have retained Fiscal Year 2009 budget levels rather than increasing revenues. Without this funding, the city expects to eliminate transit service for evenings, weekends, and holidays and coverage of two outlying areas. The city also anticipates changing headways for remaining bus routes from 30 minutes to an hour.
Two counties in Indiana—Porter and St. Joseph—both rejected a ballot question that would have supported formation of the four-county Northern Indiana Regional Transportation District to oversee South Shore commuter rail and bus systems in Porter and Lake counties and provide long-range planning for transit. The other two counties that would comprise the district, Lake and LaPorte, chose not to pay for an unscheduled election in November and have decided to place the measure on the ballot for an already scheduled election in May 2010.
Under legislation passed this summer, the transportation authority would be formed if a majority of voters in any two counties approve the measure in November. It is now uncertain if the November vote will have any effect.
PHOTO BY JEFF SWINGER, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER
Chris Carmichael of the band Lagniappe plays at the “NO on 9” election night party in Cincinnati.