As a service to readers here, I posted the column I wrote for the Community Free Press on the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax after the City Council voted to bring the issue back before the voters on May 5, 2008. The ballot question will appear before voters on the August 5, ballot:
"Shall the City of Springfield, Missouri, continue a sales tax of one-eighth of one percent for transportation purposes to fund high priority transportation improvements which include the following: Upgrading US Route 65 to a six lane facility from Battlefield Road to Chestnut Expressway; interchange improvements at James River Freeway (JRF) and National Avenue, JRF and Campbell Avenue (Phase I) and I-44 and Kansas Expressway; Intermodal Connectivity investments to enhance mobility of alternative modes of transportation (Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Transit); intersection improvement at Kearney Street and National Avenue; Turn Lane Safety and Capacity Projects; Bridge and Pavement Preservation Projects; Intelligent Transportation System Projects; and other shared funding projects with County, State, Federal, and Developers to advance high-priority transportation projects with County, State, Federal, and Developers to advance high-priority transportation projects; and including the repayment of bonds which may be used to pay for the improvements, with the tax to sunset in four years?
As a further service to readers, I am going to re-post my CFP column, the correction that followed the column in the Community Free Press' next issue (the issue of June 4) and offer some personal commentary following it:
1/8-Cent Transportation Sales Tax
City Council passed Council Bill 2008-116 on May 5. The purpose of the special ordinance was to allow voters to decide whether to continue the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax 4 more years, from 2009-2012.
The current tax is set to elapse in August, 2009. Councilman Gary Deaver was interested in the process of choosing the projects funded by the transportation tax.
“We work in partnership with MoDOT, Greene County, and the city and really look at where we can get the most value for the transportation dollars that we have,” Director of Public Works Marc Thornsberry answered.
Even though some believe there is subjective language in the ballot, voters have approved the transportation tax three times, beginning in 1996.
The language people have questioned includes unidentified “high priority transportation improvements,” and “other shared funding projects.
”Parking improvements for economic development priorities showed up on the 2000 ballot and street and parking were included as high priority transportation investments in 2004.
This year’s ballot language does not specify parking, but includes “other shared funding projects with county, state, federal, and developers to advance high-priority transportation projects,” which are identified in the bill as, “related to economic development and quality of life enhancements.”
Springfield’s Director of Public Information, Louise Whall, offered insight regarding the general language of the bill and ballot.
“We can’t predict with certainty whether any new opportunities or challenges will present themselves over the four-year period, i.e., a developer proposes a major retail center that needs additional infrastructure and asks for public-private cost-share or MoDOT‘s schedule changes and a project develops that could be a cost-share,” she said.
The transportation tax was used, in part, to fund the College Station and Heer’s Car Parks. According to Whall,the combined amount used from the transportation tax to build the parking garages was $2,836,950.
Community Free Press correction:
"The city budget story (it was actually my CouncilNotes column) in the May 21 issue stated that Springfield's 1/8-cent tax would elapse in August. According to Louise Whall, director of public information for Springfield, "If voters renew it, the new 1/8-cent would start on April 1, 2009. If it is not renewed, it would expire on March 31, 2009. And it remains 1/8 cent during that whole period, so there's no double taxation in the overlap. The ballot issues are put on the ballot well before the effective date to allow the time for the state certification of the results."
I had written that the tax would elapse in August, 2009. That was incorrect and so it was corrected.
I also received the further information about the tax that "the City used $645,000 of 1/8-cent money toward design costs as a cost-share with MoDOT, but no 1/8-cent money for construction," on 266, or Airport Blvd., from Public Information Director Louise Whall.
The use of the tax for the parking garages and Airport Blvd., were approved as uses under the broad (and some say, subjective) language of the previous bills for earlier passage of the tax.
Now, for my personal comments, which, it should be noted are my comments and not affiliated in any way with CFP's stance on the issue, which I do not know and have not discussed with anyone there beyond relaying my reasons for feeling it was important to note the broad, and in my opinion (and others), subjective language of the accompanying documents to the bill. That reason was that voters should have a more encompassing understanding of what they would be supporting if they vote in favor of renewing the tax.
Beyond the projects listed on the ballot as "included" on the list of projects the city plans to undertake, if the tax is renewed, voters are also voting to support administrative opinion regarding what are priority projects for Springfield, and, it should be noted the administrative staff would, likely, tell voters they based those previous decisions, in turn, on past, citizen input.
Previous decisions have included the administrative decision to use $2,836,950 to build parking garages and $645,000 toward design costs for Airport Blvd., as a cost share with MoDOT.
I don't have a personal problem with voters approving such uses of the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax revenue, so long as they understand, completely, the possible uses and how those uses are determined as priority projects for the voters.
Voters will have to weigh whether the projects they want to see implemented are being fairly determined, administratively, by city staff and whether the projects included in the ballot are important enough to outweigh any misgivings one might have about giving city staff license to administratively determine priority cost share projects with private developers and other government entities who are also "leveraging" tax payers' dollars to pay the costs of those projects.
Whatever voters decide, it's certain, they'll pay for it.