Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Transit Campaigns Cross the Digital Divide

For decades, campaign managers and staff have been trying to figure out how to reach the younger voters. In the last decade, the internet was the answer to reaching the modern voter. This year, campaigns are taking it a step further by adding social networking and other internet media outlets to their strategies. Presidential and issue campaigns alike are suddenly realizing the true power of the internet.
The Sound Transit campaign, Mass Transit Now! Yes on Proposition 1, in Seattle, Washington has joined with a number of other campaigns this year in crossing the digital divide to reach younger voters. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are among the media outlets that are being used in this campaign to get their message out.
Visit http://www.masstransitnow.org/ to see what the Mass Transit Now! Yes on Proposition 1 campaign is doing to reach voters.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Where could $248 billion get us?

For many months, we have seen that transit ridership has been increasing across the country. Now and in the future, many of our current systems will need funding to modernize their transit lines and to keep up with growing demand. Funding will also be needed for the 37 states that have proposed 400 new transit projects.

According to a new report from Reconnecting America, interest in new transit projects is worth $248 billion. This is roughly the same amount that SAFETEA-LU allocated to surface transportation from 2004 to 2010, of which transit will only see 20%. Imagine where we could get if the next administration invested all of that funding in new transit projects. Energy independence? Reduction of GHG emissions? New jobs? Economic security?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Billion?

There’s a perfect financial storm brewing for states. First, the Washington Post reports that many states are being hit by the current financial crisis in much the same way that some big firms are. Some states, notably California and Massachusetts, have raised concerns about their ability to access tight credit markets for vital short-term borrowing. California may end up joining the ranks of big banks and Wall Street firms needing federal assistance to stay afloat. Paging, Hank Paulson.

Those same problematic credit markets are causing trouble for states and cities relying on bonds to finance key projects. The market for state and municipal bonds, traditionally a safe haven, is also under tremendous pressure and has seen its weakest year since 1999. Massachusetts has pulled a $750 million offering based on market turmoil and uncertain demand. Fewer buyers and higher costs are putting governments in a squeeze.

Lastly, the slow economy is continuing to yield lower than expected sales tax revenues while property taxes and real estate transaction fees are being hit by the collapse of the housing market. Just to top things off, gas tax revenues and other user fees are also falling with reduced driving and slower economic growth. The Center on Budget and Polity Priorities released a new report showing that 15 more states are facing a budget shortfall. The mid-fiscal year gap is estimated at nearly $6 billion and is almost certain to grow.

These trends may be temporary and based on current economic events, but they demonstrate the longer-term investment challenges that states and regions face with uncertain funding sources. Voters will have the chance to weigh-in on new funding measures in 22 states or communities this fall. That new investment may be needed now more than ever.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Five Transportation Measures to Watch

With 23 transportation measures and counting on the November ballot, some elections are shaping up to be particularly compelling. From the ambitious to the politically embattled to a last ditch effort to keep a transit system operating, the following five elections are ones to watch:

Seattle, Washington- Proposition 1
– In November 2007, Seattle voters were presented with a 20-year, $47.2 billion Roads and Transit plan, which they rejected for its cost and construction time. This November, voters will again be presented with a transportation financing measure, but one that has been pared down to address voter’s concerns. If approved, Sound Transit’s expansion plan is expected to cost $17.8 billion and take only 15 years to implement 34 miles of light rail and expand bus service.
California, statewide- Proposition 1A
– Voters across the state of California will be deciding on a $10 billion bond proposal to begin construction of an 800-mile, high-speed rail line that would move commuters from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about four hours. If the measure is approved, construction could start as soon as 2011.
St. Louis, Missouri-Proposition M
– Originally scheduled for the ballot earlier this year, the half-cent sales tax increase had been postponed throughout the year due to Metro’s various legal setbacks and the political environment in St. Louis. Finally scheduled to go before voters this November, the sales tax is expected to generate a much needed $80 million a year to keep the transit agency operating and to support planned expansions. Without approval, St. Louis residents could expect to see deep service cuts and an indefinite hold on expansion plans.
Kansas City, MO-Question 1
– Several years in the making, this November’s 3/8-cent sales tax increase represents a promise made to voters by the city council after they overturned the results of the last light rail ballot measure. Two years ago, voters approved a plan to bring light rail to their city, but the city council overturned the plan, which they deemed underfunded and unfeasible, not long after the election. If approved by voters, the new plan, a 25 year, 14-mile light rail starter route could be the beginning of a new era for transit in Kansas City, although so could the plan approved two years ago, which is still waiting its day in court.
Mahoning County, Ohio-Ballot Question
– The 1/4 –cent sales tax measure was rejected by voters in March when it last appeared on the countywide ballot. Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA) requested that it be on the ballot again this November to give the agency more time to impress upon voter’s the dire need for additional funding. WRTA has said that without the additional $7 million the tax is expected to generate the transportation system will be forced to shutdown. Although, not as big of a financing measure as some of the others that will be on the ballot in November, countywide bus service will be completed eliminated if this does not pass.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Business Support Grows for KC Light Rail

It's been a pretty good week for the folks working to secure passage of a light rail sales tax ballot measure in Kansas City. First, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce came out with an endorsement of the measure. Now, the construction industry -- long an opponent -- has decided to sit this one out. Both groups opposed a previous measure in 2001.

Southern Dis-Comfort

So, it's been three weeks since Hurricane Ike disrupted the supply and distribution infrastructure for gasoline and people in the Southeast are still facing high(er) prices, long lines and shortages. The situation not only makes plain the vulnerability of our energy infrastructure but also exposes the fact that too many people lack true transportation choice. Earlier this year in Georgia, one of the states hardest-hit by the gas shortage, Gov. Perdue and the state legislature couldn't figure out a way to let citizens vote on plans to increase the sales tax to boost investment in public transportation and mobility. Groups in the state are mobilizing to push early next year for legislative action to allow citizens to boost transportation investment. Support for MARTA expansion, commuter rail, and other new projects is growing among business leaders and citizens. It will be interesting to see if the state's leaders follow along. Something to think about while you're waiting in line for gas.