Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Mayor Seeks Tax Renewal on Ballot
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Mayor Martin Chávez says he will ask city councilors to send renewal of the quarter-cent transportation tax before voters this fall, even though it won't be in time to keep revenue from the tax flowing uninterrupted.
The 10-year tax expires at the end of this year. If approved by voters in October, however, the renewal couldn't take effect until July 1 because of state rules on when the tax rate can be changed.
Chávez said Monday that the city can absorb the break in revenue. That's because revenue from the tax has generally grown faster than expected over the years, building up a balance in the "transportation infrastructure" fund.
The fund has $25 million to $30 million, more than enough to cover the $18 million in revenue that would be lost during the six-month interim period.
Chávez said the proposal he sends to the council will boost the amount of the tax that goes to pay for the bus system. About 20 percent of the tax revenue is now used for transit service, and the mayor wants to increase that to 30 percent.
The mayor said his proposal will prohibit the tax from being used for a rail system. Chávez said that, while he supports light rail and similar projects, they should stand on their own rather than be funded through the existing transit tax.
Council President Isaac Benton, however, said he doesn't want to rule out using some of the money for a streetcar system or high-capacity transit.
But the rest of the mayor's proposal "makes some pretty good sense," Benton said.
Councilor Ken Sanchez said he, too, supports the mayor's proposal. He had earlier proposed having the City Council extend the transit tax for six months so that it could continue uninterrupted. Sanchez said he will withdraw that measure.
Councilor Michael Cadigan, meanwhile, had proposed the city tap the fund's balance to launch some construction projects to stimulate the economy. But he said the mayor's proposal sounds like something he would support.