Spokane Journal of Business

Prop. 1’s benefits outweigh its flaws

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Proposition No. 1, the looming ballot measure that would invest an estimated $275 million over 10 years to expand public transit services here, has sparked legitimate concerns among critics who question everything from its financial projections to the cost of a proposed trolley-like route addition.

We share some of those concerns, and would have preferred to see the measure phase in more gradually a proposed sales and use tax increase that would fund the improvements. However, we believe the long-term benefits that would emanate from this sizable financial investment outweigh the measure’s flaws, and we encourage voters to support it.

The special election is scheduled for April 28, but voters should begin receiving their mail-in ballots within the next couple of weeks.   

 The proposition would authorize the collection of an additional sales tax of 0.3 percent—or three cents on a $10 retail purchase—to extend hours and expand service to new areas. Nearly half of the tax receipts, though, also would go to maintaining current levels of transit service that Spokane Transit Authority officials claim otherwise would need to be scaled back. A good-sized portion of that money would be used to replace aging buses.

STA currently receives about 70 percent of its funding from a voter-approved sales tax of 0.6 percent, so this measure would boost that funding level to 0.9 percent over the 10-year span before the authorization sunsets, after which voters would need to reauthorize it.

The sunset clause, approved by a divided STA board that might not have placed the measure on the ballot otherwise, appears in hindsight to have been a smart move that would force STA to manage its added tax receipts wisely or face losing them.

STA says the added funding would enable it to provide an estimated 25 percent increase in bus service, which it expects will accommodate a 30 percent increase in ridership to more than 15 million rides a year by 2025. As part of a long-range plan, the transit authority says it would implement more than 25 improvements across the region to meet a growing demand for transit services. The service improvements are too numerous to be detailed here, but can be reviewed at stamovingforward.com.

 Assuming 2.5 percent annual growth in sales tax revenue, the ballot measure would be projected to generate $270 million between the third week of December this year and Dec. 31, 2025, with STA also kicking in $5 million from existing cash.

One capital project that has stirred considerable controversy and some lingering doubts on our part—due to uncertainties surrounding the type of vehicles that would be used—is a proposed Central City Line that would use a rubber-tired electric trolley to serve a six-mile route between Browne’s Addition and Spokane Community College. That expensive project, though, would depend heavily on grant funding and—in context—is just one piece of a much broader and laudably progressive plan to meet transit needs here for the next decade, and perhaps beyond. 

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