STA's Proposition 1 is a needed investment
In Our Opinion
Last updated 9/22/2016 at 12:06pm
Spokane Transit Authority’s Proposition 1 on the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election ballot would raise sales tax 2/10ths of 1 percent to pay for regional transportation improvements. According to information from STA, if approved by a majority of voters, the increase would amount to 2 cents per every $10 spent going to pay for transit; about $2 a month and $24 a year extra to the average household.
While a lot of the focus may be on financials, what the vote really comes down to was aptly expressed by Cheney Mayor and STA board member Tom Trulove during a meeting with the Cheney Free Press editorial board. Trulove said the vote is really a referendum to taxpayers — Is public transit a valued and wise use of tax dollars?
A majority of the editorial board says yes, and urges voters to approve the measure. But as we do with other public money requests, we ask voters to read up on the proposition and think about Trulove’s statement instead of blindly checking a box.
STA officials present a good argument for passage of the sales tax increase, which previously went before voters in April 2015 as a 3/10ths increase and lost by 572 votes out of 76,842 votes cast. Since then, the agency has reevaluated its revenue projections, taking a less conservative approach, as well as sought out and secured state and federal funding for big ticket capital projects in its plan, a process which has enabled it to reduce its request.
If approved, it would pay for operational costs that will help STA provide 25 percent more service through more runs during peak hours, more early morning and late night service, shorter travel times and new and improved transit centers — 25 projects that improve transit region-wide including on the West Plains.
In fact, several of those projects revolve around the now financed construction of the West Plains Transit Center at Interstate 90’s Medical Lake exit. The center would enable the residents of Cheney, Airway Heights and Medical Lake to cut down on their transit travel time by creating more direct routes, routes no longer having to go to STA’s Plaza Transit Center in downtown Spokane.
If approved, the sales tax would be implemented in two phases, with 1 percent taking place in April 2017 and the other 1 percent in April 2019. The measure also sunsets after 11 years.
STA officials also note they are implementing fare increases to ensure passengers pay for at least 20 percent of operational costs. They have taken maintenance steps to get 15 years out of buses that should be replaced after 10, have a workable replacement plan for their fleet and have had 11 straight years of successful audits.
STA statistics note there were 10.8 million bus rides in 2015, and while a decrease from previous years, that equates to about as many vehicle trips taken off regional roadways, helping reduce congestion. But has it really?
According to the 2016 Journal of Business Market Facts Book, 77.5 percent of people in Spokane County chose driving alone in a car, truck or van as their means of transportation in 2014. By contrast, just 2.7 percent chose mass transit, less than the percentages of those who chose to carpool, work at home or walk.
The tax increase would also increase STA’s annual budget by about $20 million, the total of which would approach the totals of the city of Spokane’s police and fire departments combined. Add in that other public entities will be asking for tax increases in the near future, and it’s more money that comes out of the public’s pocket, money that might not be available for other, perhaps more essential uses.
It’s something to consider. But also needing consideration is that Spokane County is projected to grow by 165,000 more people over the next 30 years.
That could mean more cars on our existing transportation system, and potentially even more so if the STA sales tax doesn’t pass, leading to a potential 25 percent decrease from current transit service levels.
There are a lot of considerations when it comes to mass transit. But having a system that can’t keep up with population growth could be more damaging than having to pay for a service many of us don’t use.
We think passage of STA’s Proposition 1 is a good investment in our future.