By Taylor Klocke

Transit on the Ballot, 2019 Elections

November 5, 2019

Election Day is here, and in an effort to help CTAA members keep track of state elections, we’ve put together a brief update on ballot initiatives that might affect local transit operations.

California

In San Francisco, voters will see Proposition D on the ballot. Prop D would introduce a tax on transportation network companies (such as Uber and Lyft). The proposed tax would be 3.25 percent for most rides, and 1.5 percent for carpool rides. The revenue generated from the tax (an estimated $30 million per year), would be used for transportation and pedestrian safety improvements. Both Uber and Lyft support the proposition. Currently, San Francisco is the only city in the state with such an initiative.

Update on 11/6/19: This measure passed with 66.66 percent of residents voting to implement the tax.

Colorado

Proposition CC , if passed, would permanently remove state constitution caps on annual growth of spending at inflation plus population growth. Currently, any tax money over that amount is required to be returned to the taxpayers. Prop CC would eliminate this return of funds, and instead, it would be recycled back into the state’s budget. If Prop CC passes, the state estimates that it would provide an extra $310 million in the budget. Transportation would be able to fight for some of the extra funds. So far, the campaign has raised significant awareness. Opponents of the bill worry that the bill language does not clearly define how and where lawmakers can spend the funds.

Update on 11/6/19: This measure failed with 56 percent of residents voting against. 

Also in Colorado, voters in Denver will decide whether or not to approve the creation of a new Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. The new department would be designed to enhance the current multi-modal transportation system in the city, as well as to create more mobility options. Ultimately, the new department would focus on the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the city’s transportation networks.

Update on 11/6/19: This measure passed with 73.66 percent voting to create the new Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. 

Ohio

Cincinnati residents will be voting on Issue 22, a proposed amendment that would allow the city to drop a 0.3 percent earning tax that’s dedicated to transit, if voters also approve a Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees (SORTA) sales tax request in the March or November 2020 election. If Issue 22 is passed, Hamilton County voters will then decide in November 2020 whether or not to boost the public transportation system with tax revenue. The last ballot initiative of this nature happened twenty years ago. If this second vote is passed, the county’s sales tax would be increased by 0.8 percent (currently seven percent) and would be funneled to Cincinnati Metro Bus. It’s estimated that the tax would generate around $100 million in funding for transit each year. The measure has significant support amongst the SORTA board. Previously, county residents have rejected four previous proposals to fund public transit with a sales tax. It is excepted that the SORTA board will put forward potential ballot language this November.

Update on 11/6/19: This measure passed with 76 percent of residents voting yes.

Oklahoma

Voters in Norman will decide on implementing a one-eight percent sales tax to benefit public transit. Similarly in Cleveland County, voters will chose to either discontinue or continue (at a reduced rate) their current one-quarter percent tax, which goes towards public transit. For those in Norman, if the tax is passed, the funds will be restricted for only public transit systems. The ballot language also includes a sunset clause that would allow the council to end the tax if the Regional Transit Authority provides further funding for EMBARK (Norman’s public transit system). Currently, it costs the city’s current system $5.3 million to operate. The money is broken down as follows: $3.1 million for the city’s operations contract with EMBARK and the local university, $900,000 for maintenance, $125,000 for staff and $1.2 million for capital costs. The new sales tax would generate an estimated $2.5 million. If residents chose not to pass the tax, the City Council worries that the system will not have enough funds, and they will have to cut some routes and services.

Update on 11/6/19: Readers should note that this special election for Norman residetnts will take place on November 12, 2019. 

Pennsylvania

Voters in Philadelphia will decide whether or not to allow the city to borrow $185 million for government projects, including funding for transportation. Specifically, transit would receive $4.8 million of the $185 million. Similar ballot initiatives have been successful in the past. In 2018, voters approved a $181 million ask by the city.

Update on 11/6/19: This measure passed with 71.52 percent of residents voting yes. 

Texas

Houston and Austin, the state’s two largest metro areas, have put transit initiatives on the ballot. Houston Metro will be asking voters for a $3.5 billion bond. The bond would fund a new BRT service, light rail and local bus system enhancements (new stops, sidewalks, etc.) An early poll showed the initiative as polling with 60 percent support. The last time Houston Metro had a bond election was in 2003, and it was successful; ultimately winning $600 million in funds. Austin Capital Metro is also planning for a billion-dollar bond for the 2020 election. Previous bond initiatives of this nature have marginally failed. It’s been noted that more Texans have come on-board with public transit and positively perceive its use.

Update on 11/6/19: 68 percent of Houston residents voted yes for the $3.5 billion bond.  

Looking Forward to the 2020 Elections

California

The Contra Costa County Transportation Authority created an expenditure plan, set over 35 years and costing $3.6 billion. The plan is being shopped around the cities in the county before possibly appearing on the March 2020 ballot. If implemented the plan would be funded through a half-cent transportation sales tax. If approved by voters, the tax would run until 2055 and eliminate a previously set sunset clause on a different tax. The funds would not only go towards improving the local transit system, but also to create reduced-fare transit passes and enhanced mobility options for seniors, veterans and other vulnerable populations.

Michigan

Metro Detroit is looking to form a four-county solution to regional transit. Leaders across the counties are attempting to leverage the state’s Municipal Partnership Act to create a new regional transit district. In order to do so, there would need to be separate countywide millages on the November 2020 ballots. If put on the ballot and passed, it would allow for a better-coordinated mass transit system serving urban and suburban populations. A previous 2018 attempt to pass a 20-year transit millage failed before it went on the ballot.

We will continue to update CTAA members on new legislation or ballot initiatives that might impact their operations. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the above, or you’ve seen a bill in your state you’d like CTAA to take a closer look at, please reach out to klocke@ctaa.org.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.