Lawrence city commissioners and staff owe Lawrence voters the clearest possible explanation of what will happen if a sales tax levy to support the city's public transit system passes and what will happen if it doesn't.
The vote on a 0.2 percent sales tax to support the T is being portrayed as a simple referendum on the city bus system: If you want the T to survive you vote "yes"; if you don't, you vote "no."
Clearly, however, other questions need to be answered.
If the sales tax passes, will the 0.2 percent tax raise enough money to fund the T's current level of service? If not, will service be reduced, or will the city try to find money - elsewhere in the budget or through grants or some other source - to make up the difference?
If the sales tax fails, will the T be shut down immediately? Will the paratransit system be preserved? Will the city sell its buses and close the door to any potential revival of the bus system? Is there any chance that the city would try to continue even limited service for the fixed-route system?
Whether the sales tax passes or fails, the voters must consider the impact on any future partnership with KU on Wheels, Kansas University's student bus system. Will income from the tax be enough to satisfy KU that it wouldn't be carrying too much of the financial load in a transit partnership? If the tax fails, will the city be able to work at all to help KU on Wheels expand its routes to provide limited service to nonstudents?
Another wild card to consider is what will happen after a new City Commission is seated next April. If a failed sales tax question causes this commission to kill the T, what happens if the commission takes a pro-T turn in April? Will the city have to start from scratch on a new system?
City officials have been pretty clear on how it would use the 0.3 percent sales tax for infrastructure and fire equipment. The Lawrence school district always spells out in detail how money from a proposed bond issue would be used. Between now and Nov. 4, city officials need to clearly spell out the likely scenarios attached to both a positive and negative vote on the sales tax. If they don't know what those scenarios are, they should figure it out - now.
It's unfair to ask Lawrence voters to decide on the transportation sales tax without giving them the information they need to make an intelligent choice.