Friday, October 11, 2013
By Karen DeWitt : NYS Public Radio/WXXI
A State Supreme court judge heard arguments Friday on whether the Board of Elections should change the wording of a casino gambling amendment that critics say improperly advocates for the measure’s passage.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Infrastructure issues may have turned partisan these past four years while bridges crumble, waiting for repair, but transit-advocates have hope: This election may bring in big bucks for buses and subways, direct from voters.
More than a dozen transit-related initiatives will appear on local ballots in November, including a mammoth funding plan in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, a measure in Orange County, N.C., would add a half cent to the sales tax to fund transit. A third measure, in Memphis, Tenn., would increase the cost of a gallon of gas by a penny, raising an estimated $3 to $6 million each year for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
The big kahuna of proposals is in Los Angeles, where four years ago voters approved Measure R, a sales tax increase that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years for transit, highway, and bus projects. Measure J, which will appear on the ballot this year, would extend the transportation tax another 30 years.
The city's transit system is still wanting for cash. Even as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vocally championed new light rail lines and bike lanes, L.A. County’s Metro has slashed bus service to some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.
Atlanta’s transit agency has been cutting bus service due to budget shortfalls. But unlike in L.A., light rail hasn’t fared much better.
However, Atlanta seems to be an exception to the rule. Transit funding is winning wide approval in other cities around the country this year, as in recent years — and will likely see a few more big wins on ballot budget initiatives in November, including in L.A. If all goes as expected, Angelenos will get the world-class transit system that Mayor Villaraigosa dreams about — and sooner than you might think.
“The overwhelming majority of measures are successful,” says Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence, a D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks transit-related ballot initiatives. “We were expecting to see approval rates decline back in ’08, with the economic downturn. But rates have actually been improving year over year.”
According to the center’s tally, transit is batting almost 90 percent at the ballot box nationally this year. Voters in Baton Rouge, La., approved a property tax measure in April that will more than double the annual budget for the local bus service. In May, residents of Parkersburg, W.Va., voted to extend a property tax that funds the local transit service. And Michiganders renewed a slew of taxes to fund transit in August.
“It used to be that you might go to the ballot in order to raise matching funds for federal dollars,” Jordan says. “Now, places have to make themselves competitive for federal funds by showing they’ve got skin in the game.”
Putting a long-term transit tax in place would allow L.A.’s Metro to borrow the money now and pay it off over the coming decades (there’s a good explanation here), meaning that Angelenos could be living in traintopia in the not too distant future. Under California law, the measure will require a supermajority of at least two-thirds support to pass, but that didn’t stop Measure R from passing in 2008.
So what happened in Atlanta — and could the same forces take down transit initiatives elsewhere? Here it is, mapped:
Pretty clear, right? More than two-thirds of voters in the urban core supported the measure. But the further you went from the city center, the more the opposition won over. By the time you got to the suburbs, people it was a landslide of opposition.
Jordan says that in many ways, Atlanta’s initiative was destined to fail, both because of historic forces at work in the region, (listen to TN's documentary about Race and Mass Transit for the story of Atlanta's transit history) and because the state legislature imposed restrictions on the measure that made it unwieldy. The vote also coincided with the state primaries, in which the most contested races were among Republicans in the exurbs — not people who are inclined to tax themselves for better trains and buses.
For evidence that transit votes don’t always devolve into a simple city-vs.-suburb showdown, Jordan points to St. Louis, where a ballot initiative failed in 2008, but passed on a second attempt, two years later. Here are the maps:
Looks neat, but to me, the message remains the same: Folks in the ‘burbs don’t care much for transit initiatives. The difference in the second St. Louis election was that fewer of them turned out to vote — and a strong grassroots campaign succeeded in getting pro-transit folks to support the measure. In campaign parlance, the initiative’s backers got their supporters out “without mobilizing their opponents.”
In L.A., where transit is winning my supermajorities, the story seems to be different. Mayor Villaraigosa has a long way to go in his effort to build a truly functional and just public transportation system for his city, but he has succeeded in creating a plan that a broad swath of society can get behind, one likely to pass the test of election day.
Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.
Friday, November 04, 2011
And it's a key bellwether for how voters are feeling about spending on big transportation projects a year after midterm elections saw big gains for candidates vowing to curb spending. Many of those candidates are now part of the powerful Tea Party caucus in Washington, which has blocked any new taxes and pushed huge spending cuts.
Sponsored by a conservative activist, Tim Eyman, the Washington ballot measure would curtail how tolls could be spent, limiting toll collections for only the specific project being tolled. The measure would also halt variable tolling, seen as a key tool by transportation planners to ease congestion at peak times, but seen as inherently unfair by the measure's sponsors, who tout the measure by saying "Tolls do not vary. They are the same 24/7 and everyone pays."
Measure 1125 would also bar the expansion of Seattle's light rail across the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, which was approved by a ballot measure last year.
According to the 'Yes on 1125' homepage, the measure "stands up for the 97 percent of us who chose to drive everyday."
The measure has opponents trying to cough up that chicken-bone, and furiously fundraising. So far, Microsoft (based in Washington) employees, including Bill Gates himself, have contributed $700,000 to fund more than 2 million worth of television ads to block the proposal.
The Seattle City Council recently voted 9-0 to oppose the measure, arguing it would excessive drain funding for key transportation projects.
Proponents have far fewer resources, but the "I'm Mad As Hell But Not Going To Take it Anymore"-inspired measure is so far even in the poll.
The vote next week comes as Washington, DC politicians are grappling with how to fund the transportation bill. The results could be used as ammo by either side in an argument about how transpo should be funded -- and how big its dreams should be.