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Funding Transit in St. Louis: Another Crack at a Sales Tax

Cities and counties across the country are struggling with the funding of their transit systems in these hard times. In New York City, the payroll tax solution touted in Albany last year has failed to meet projections. In Lorain County, Ohio, the rejection of a sales tax by voters resulted in crippling cutbacks to that region's bus service.

What's at stake when transit is starved of funding? Today on the Streetsblog Network, Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL decided to lay out ten reasons voters should approve a sales tax increase that will help to  bolster transit service in the St. Louis region. A similar proposal failed in 2008, triggering massive cutbacks and layoffs. Here's why Patterson thinks it's so important that it pass this time:

225555036_84ebc4ee97.jpgSt. Louis County Executive Charlie "A" Dooley, August 2006. (Photo: Urban Review STL)
Tuesday April 6, 2010, voters in St. Louis County will decide the fate of Proposition A -- a 1/2 cent sales tax to match the same tax previously approved by voters in the City of St. Louis.  Revenues would be used to fund existing operations and expand service of our regional public transit.

I decided to put together list of what “A” can do for the region:

  • Accelerate: strong transit will accelerate the trend toward filling in the core rather than pushing outward at the edges. This helps ensure those folks who moved to the edge won’t be surrounded by new construction.
  • Accessible: public transit makes going from home to work accessible to many. This applies to those of us with disabilities as well as those without access to an automobile. Getting our citizens to work, school is important for a strong region.…
  • Affirm: passage will affirm our commitment to a regional transit network. This affirmation will send a strong message to companies and people considering the St. Louis region as a future location.
  • Affordable: as we saw when service was cut back people couldn’t get to work. Employers need their employees at work. Our region can’t afford to not have a functioning transit system. We can’t afford to not pass this tax.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the St. Louis County sales tax proposition. Will voters be willing to pass it? Have proponents done a good enough job of making their case?

More importantly, what kind of long-term solutions will cities and regions be able to devise -- not just to build transit networks, but to maintain and operate them after the ribbon-cutting ceremonies are long forgotten? For those of us who believe in the vital importance of public transportation systems, this is the question that needs to be solved. Your thoughts welcome in the comments.