A citizens' group is forming in hopes of saving the city's public transit system, but that does not necessarily mean it'll be rallying support for a proposed public transportation sales tax.
"A sales tax is going to hit hardest the actual people who ride the T," said C.J. Brune, a neighborhood activist who is helping organize the citizens' group. "To pass a sales tax to just keep the T running is going to be a totally uphill battle, even for progressives."
Instead, Brune hopes that a Monday evening meeting will produce alternative ways to save the T, which is facing a $1 million budget shortfall in 2009.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
The other option that city commissioners have considered - but thus far rejected - is increasing the property tax mill levy to pay for the transit shortfall. It likely would take a 1.5 to 2.5 mill increase to cover the shortfall.
City Commissioner Boog Highberger said he will propose at Tuesday's City Commission meeting that the mill levy be increased enough for 2009 to keep the T operational, with the provision that the mill levy would be reduced in 2010 if voters approve the sales tax.
Highberger has proposed that plan before and failed to get the necessary two other commissioners to join him. Highberger said he'll vote against any city budget proposal that doesn't include guaranteed funding for the T.
"I can't support a budget that gambles the bus system on a sales tax vote," Highberger said.
Highberger also said he'll urge fellow commissioners to reconsider their plan to place two separate sales tax provisions on the November ballot. At present, commissioners have expressed support for placing a 0.2 percent sales tax for transit and a 0.3 percent sales tax for improved street maintenance, sidewalks and infrastructure.
Highberger believes the two sales tax initiatives should be combined to give the transit system the best chance of winning approval.
"By the city making it two separate questions on the ballot, they have doomed it in my opinion," Brune said. "You either are a bus driver, a bus rider or someone with an extreme social consciousness to vote for it."
But a majority of city commissioners have supported making the bus question a separate ballot issue so that voters have a clear forum for either expressing support or opposition to a city-run bus system.
Some commissioners also have expressed optimism that the transit sales tax will pass, given the rising price of gasoline and new efforts on the part of the city to combine its transit service with Kansas University's bus system.
City commissioners are expected to dive deeply into the subject at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets. At that meeting, commissioners are expected to set the maximum mill levy for 2009, which is one of the last steps before giving final approval to the budget. Commissioners are expected to vote to officially place the two sales tax questions on the ballot at their Aug. 5 meeting.