ELECTION 2016: Ballots in four locales include $32 billion for transportation purposes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/20/2016

Transportation funding is a topic addressed each year by voters around the country. Among the issues included next month on local ballots stretching from the Carolinas to the Pacific Northwest are taxes to benefit roads and transit.

In Wake County, N.C., voters will decide on a half-cent sales tax referendum to help fund a new $2.3 billion regional transit plan.

The plan includes commuter trains between Raleigh, Research Triangle Park and Durham. The plan also expands bus service.

The new sales tax revenue would account for about $1 billion in the first decade. In addition to state and federal funds, the remaining $1.3 billion needed to cover the regional plan would be paid for through a $7 county vehicle registration fee, a $3 increase in the regional vehicle registration fee, an existing 5 percent vehicle rental tax, and farebox revenue.

Advocates say commuter rail service will provide relief from traffic congestion on Interstate 40 during peak travel times. Once transit is fully implemented in the area, they add that 70 percent of all jobs will be located within a half mile of a transit stop and bus service will expand to 19 hours daily.

Opponents say that taxpayers will be on the hook for far more than $2.3 billion, and for much longer than the 10 years that supporters claim. Critics say part of the problem is that there are plans to construct new commuter lines when there are existing lines available.

Detroit-area voters will have a ballot question to raise nearly $3 billion over the next 20 years to pay for work that includes a bus rapid transit system and a commuter rail line linking Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Voters in Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Washtenaw counties will choose whether to add a 1.2-mill regional transit tax to get the projects going. The rate amounts to $1.20 per $1,000 of taxable valuation.

The mill rate is the rate at which property taxes are determined. Every person who owns real estate is required to pay property taxes.

The proposed tax could not be increased, renewed, or use for other purposes without voter approval. In addition, there is no county opt-out provision included with the ballot question.

The overall plan would produce $4.7 billion in revenue over the next two decades. Federal and state matching funds would account for about $1.7 billion.

In the Seattle area, voters will decide whether to support use of federal grants and multiple tax increases to benefit transit options.

Ballots in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties will include a proposition to raise $54 billion over 25 years to extend light rail and other services.

About half of the funding would come via a sales tax rate increase of one-half percent, a vehicle tax increase of 0.8 percent, and a property tax increase by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The rest of the money would come from existing Sound Transit financing, federal grants, bonds sales and fares.

Included in the package are plans to more than double the miles of light rail from 54 to 116 miles between Tacoma, Seattle, Everett and the Eastside. Bus rapid transit lines would also be included between Lynnwood and Burien along Interstate 405 and on Highway 522 from Woodinville to North Seattle.

Critics say the plan will not solve traffic congestion, and to make matters worse it will burden taxpayers with excessive increases. Instead, some say that self-driving vehicles are the future for commuters in the area.

Across country in Charleston County, S.C., voters will cast ballots on issues that include a referendum for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund road projects, mass transit and greenbelt projects.

The additional tax revenue would amount to $2.1 billion over 25 years. About $600 million would be earmarked for the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.

For more 2016 election coverage from Land Line, click here.

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