The League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County typically doesn't support sales taxes because they're seen as regressive, said Carrie Lindsey, president of the league.
But for public transportation, the league will make an exception. The organization has long supported public transportation, citing it is as an essential city service, Lindsey said.
The league sponsored a public forum Wednesday night at Plymouth Congregational Church to discuss public transit and encourage voters to approve two sales tax questions that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. The questions are for a two-tenths of a percent tax to provide public transit operations at the current capacity and a five-one hundredths percent tax for expanded transit services.
"In this case we felt that the T : is a part of the infrastructure of the city of Lawrence, and we didn't want to see it lost," she said.
Lindsey moderated a question-and-answer session with a panel of nine people: City Manager David Corliss; Jim Mullins, field coordinator for Americans for Prosperity; James Canaday, vice president of the Douglas County Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; Alan Black, Kansas University professor of urban planning and former board member of the city public transportation advisory committee; Marian Hukle, KU math professor and former board member of the transportation advisory committee; Deirdre Humphrey, employment specialist for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority; Gayle Sigurdson, elderly services coordinator for the housing authority; Rob Tabor, attorney for Independence Inc.; and John Hunter, senior research assistant supervisor for KU's Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets.
Fewer than 20 people were in the audience.
A majority of the panelists, many of them avid T riders, said public transportation is a must, but the panel unanimously agreed changes need to be made to make it more effective.
Hunter rode the T for three years from 2003 to 2006. He stopped because "it wasn't working for me," he said, citing long waits and ineffective routes as main reasons.
"I came to this meeting : mostly opposed to another tax, or a couple of taxes that was far from paying its own way," he said. "But I asked myself, 'What do we want the city to be? What is our vision?' I would like it to be a city that creates opportunities."
Job opportunities were a major concern for panelists working for social services agencies.
Sigurdson, Humphrey and Tabor cited public transportation as key to helping their clients find and keep jobs. They said there is a greater cost to the city if people such as senior citizens and the unemployed are not able to use city buses to get to doctor visits, industrial jobs on the outskirts of the city or volunteer positions.
For Hunter, however, the desire to create opportunities, he said, "has to be tempered with financial reality."
To Mullins, that financial reality is that the city cannot afford to maintain the transportation system. He opposed supporting the sales tax. He said he often sees empty buses because routes go to unpopular places, and that taxi vouchers or another alternatives could take the place of paratransit services.
Other panelists such as Hunter could appreciate Mullins views, but what changed Hunter's mind on supporting the sales tax is the notion that a majority of sales tax dollars would come from out-of-town visitors, including those for KU basketball and football games, and he said he believed that city leaders and others would work to create a more efficient transportation system.
"I thought we had an extremely good discussion and different views were aired," said Kay Hale, member of the league.