Thursday, July 17, 2008
Counties Can Put Transit Tax on Ballot
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
A proposal that calls for a one-eighth-cent sales tax to pay for Rail Runner operations and regional bus services in Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties was approved Wednesday by the Rio Metro Transit District.
The action was needed to allow the counties to put the tax question on the fall ballot.
"We've done the groundwork, but the people get to make the choice themselves," Wayne Ake, Bosque Farms mayor and transit district chairman, said about the anticipated November vote.
The Bernalillo and Sandoval county commissions this week are expected to consider publishing the legal notices needed to put the tax question on the ballot. Valencia County could do so soon.
Half of the money from the tax — projected to generate about $26 million annually — would pay for operation of the commuter train. The other half would be used for the regional bus services.
Rio Metro members, before approving the tax idea, approved the financial and transit service plan that directs how the money would be used. It includes such things as establishing dial-a-ride service in the East Mountains and neighborhood circulator service in the Albuquerque area and creating new "commuter express" routes in Sandoval and Valencia counties.
"It's very significant," Ake said. "Regionalization, I feel, has to be the way of the future to get things accomplished."
The tax plan and the transit service and financial plan were approved by 14-2 votes, with Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris and a representative for City Councilor Sally Mayer voting no.
"We've just had so many small incremental increases in gross receipts taxes, and after a while it adds up," Harris said later. "I'm concerned that the proposed federal funding that was promised for the (train) project hasn't come."
Others, such as Bernalillo County Commissioner Teresa Córdova, looked at the mass transit service as an investment that has economic benefit and will serve a population that's expected to grow by more than 230,000 people in the three-county area by 2025.