The election is finally over, which means TV advertisements will go back to boring commercialism instead of political ads. It also means we’ll do a quick look at how transit fared on the ballot this cycle.
Let’s start with the bad news and end with the good:
- The Pierce County measure to stop draconian cuts to bus service has lost by less than 800 votes out of 200,000 votes cast. This has to be one of the closest transit elections ever. This loss will lead to devastating cuts to service if no other stop gap operations funding is found. The only sliver of good news is the agency has until 2014 before the cuts are implemented, so there is some time. A local political cartoonist has been covering this discouraging outcome with force.
- In Memphis, TN there was a local tax on gasoline on the ballot which would have funded transit service that unfortunately it did not pass. This is the first time this innovative funding source has been tried at the ballot box (to our knowledge). There was not much time to build a campaign for this measure and the agency doesn’t see it as all bad news. We hope innovative funding sources like this continue to be used as a tool across the country.
- Rail expansion measures failed in Alameda County, LA, and Vancouver, WA. I should note the LA measure was opposed by the Bus Riders Union because it didn’t fund existing bus service enough, but had support from many other transit advocacy organizations (and many other interests). In California tax measures need a super majority to win so both the LA measure and Alameda measure “failed” with 64-65% of the vote, which in most places would be an overwhelming affirmative vote. The vote in Vancouver, WA was seen just as much as a referendum on a major bridge project than as a transit vote and did not have a large campaign effort behind it.
And onto the plentiful GOOD news!
- Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE) reports 79% of transit measure have passed in 2012, reaffirming the fact that voters across the country demand more transit, not less, at the ballot box.
- Americans for Transit worked with the local ATU and the South Carolina Progressive Network to support a penny sales tax for transit and roads in Richland County, SC. The voters in Columbia, SC said yes and as a result bus service will receive millions of more dollars in the years ahead. More info on this vote from SC Progressive Network is in the blurb below.
- Voters in Slyvania, OH, Spencer, OH, and Walker, MI were asked if they wanted to remove their suburban cities from the service and taxing areas of their regional transit agencies. All three cities overwhelming said no to these destructive proposals that would leave riders stranded. While the growing trend of people using public votes to defund transit is concerning, these wins demonstrate these anti-transit unjust tactics rarely work!
- Orange County, NC voters overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves for light rail and express bus expansion, paving the way for a regional system. Who knew the Carolinas would be the next frontier of pro-transit voters!
- Voters in Virginia Beach, VA also passed an advisory vote to expand light rail into their community.
There are a few smaller measures which CFTE is also tracking. All in all it was a very good night for transit across America last Tuesday. In addition to these transit votes, our friends at the ATU handed out over a million vote transit flyers to riders across the country and successfully raised transit as an electoral issue nationally. Stay tuned as we continue to partner with them to build out an even more robust vote transit program in the years ahead.
More on the Richland County, SC vote from the SC Progressive Network:
Penny Sales Tax Saves the Buses
While the state Supreme Court has stopped the certification of the Richland County election results, it is clear that a recount, or even a “do-over,” won’t change the results of the referendum on the penny sales tax increase for transportation. The question passed by nearly 9,000 YES votes.
The question was complicated by the regressive nature of sales taxes being a greater burden on low-wage workers, and the rampant distrust of politicians, but the Progressive Network took on the issue on behalf of the workers, students and disabled who rely on public transportation.
We found that poor folks who depend on public transportation, or know those who do, were willing to pay the penny. It was the folks who could afford it, and those who generally oppose taxes, who were opposed to the referendum.
Lack of funding for infrastructure in SC comes from the same forces that opposed raising the gas tax (ours is one of the nation’s lowest and hasn’t been increased since 1989). Our state government is controlled by politicians who think government is bad and must be starved into ineffectiveness to allow salvation through market forces (read corporations that fund their campaigns).
We take comfort in knowing that citizens of Richland County believe in our collective responsibility to maintain a modicum of civilization. An informed and engaged citizenry is what makes government work. Towards that end, the Network will be organizing a bus riders union to insure that the $300 million the penny will raise for public transportation is spent in an effective and equitable manner.
Our “Save the Buses Committee” will meet at our office (2025 Marion St. Columbia) at 2pm, Nov. 14 to make plans to monitor and influence decisions about how our penny is spent.