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LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk

A game of 'what if' with the city's transit system

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It's the scenario that City Hall leaders don't want to think about. What happens if the two sales taxes for public transit get shot down by voters in November, but then just five months later three pro-transit candidates are elected to the Lawrence City Commission?"You're scaring me," was the response I got when I brought the scenario up to one City Hall leader. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. It probably is not safe to assume that if the transit votes fail in November that pro-transit candidates could not feasibly win election in the April city commission election, where three of the five commission seats will be up for grabs. Here's why: Voter turnout. The November general election could easily surpass 80 percent turnout as Lawrence residents go to the polls to elect a new president. But most Lawrence political observers would begin stocking up on blankets for their trip to Hades if a City Commission election draws an 80 percent turnout. Usually 20 percent turnout is more the norm. If three pro-transit candidates do the best job of getting their supporters out to the polls in April, they'll win. What they'll do, other than throw up their hands, however is a big question. By April 2009, the city's fixed route bus system presumably would be closed. If the sales tax doesn't pass, the city has no money in the 2009 budget to run the system.But if three people on the City Commission want something bad enough, usually they can find a way to do it. If push came to shove, you could argue that the city has the money to run a fixed route transit system in 2009. The city's general fund has the equivalent of an approximately $10 million savings account. Technically it is called a fund balance. Never mind what it is called, it is more than enough money to run the city's transit system.The most recent estimates are that the city's transit system would need about $4 million to operate its existing service in 2009. Ten million is clearly more than four million, but it certainly wouldn't be that simple.For one, if a commission tried to use approximately half the city's fund balance in one fell swoop, the professional staff members who put together the budget would begin buying fabric by the gross to construct a giant, red warning flag.The city has a policy that the general fund balance shall not fall below 15 percent of the fund's expenditures. But that's just a city policy that can be changed or temporarily ignored. It is not some state law.And commissioners theoretically could take that money with the understanding that they would increase property taxes enough the following year to replenish the fund balance.One big question, though, is whether a new city commission would have any buses left to put on the streets. Again, theoretically, the current City Commission could choose to sell all the public transit buses before April. That would significantly increase the cost to restart the bus system. City commissioners want the sales taxes to pass, so they aren't in the mood to discuss any of this. But Mayor Mike Dever did say that he would be "disappointed" if such a scenario landed in City Hall. He wants November's election to finally put the public transit question to rest. "It would be a disappointment to me because I feel like we would have asked and answered that question," Dever said. "We really are having a referendum on public transit indirectly."And, by the way, Dever thinks I'm crazy for bringing the scenario up. He doesn't think it is very likely. He may be right.But I've covered City Hall in one way or another since 1994, and there's one philosophy I always keep at the top of my mind: Almost anything is possible, if you can count to three.

Comments

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 4 months ago

"The November general election could easily surpass 80 percent turnout as Lawrence residents go to the polls to elect a new president. But most Lawrence political observers would begin stocking up on blankets for their trip to Hades if a City Commission election draws an 80 percent turnout. Usually 20 percent turnout is more the norm"And THAT just about sums it up. I used to think that city elections were important, after all, these are local people having an effect on our local commjunity. But no more. I used to wonder why the voter turnout in Lawrence was so miserable. I do not wonder any more.The Lawrence commission form of government is broken. It has been for many years. The people elected to be "commisioners" are inept, unqualified to govern anything and merely act at the behest of the city manager and his unelected and unaccountable paid "city staff" This is why we get roundabouts and dubious law enforcement events. The city commission is inept, unprincipled and inefective and most citizens know this. Why vote for milk sop individuals who are in the pocket of the city manager and his "staff" ? It is always more of the same, the persons who can buy and distribute the most yard signs get elected, but turn out to be no more effective or responsible that any of the past "commissioners" and "mayors" The position of Mayor in Lawrence is one of the biggest jokes in our community, this rotating door is merely a ceremonial exercise signifying nothing. So why do no more than 20% of people vote for city elections??You figure it out.

Catalano 6 years, 4 months ago

The city commission has held hostage anyone who supports public transportation and the supporters all seem to have come down with Stockholm Syndrome, now thinking these two sales tax ideas (0.20 and 0.05) are great. (It was really pathetic to see Grassroots Action grovel at the feet of the mayor, actually thanking him for the additional tax. I thought GA had more balls than that. And I thought they were more "progressive" than to support such a regressive tax. They just rolled over and said, wow, okay, a sales tax...well, if that's what it's gotta be then that's what it's gotta be.) If the public really wants a good public transportation system, they need to elect a majority of city commissioners who will do the work necessary to create one. This public transit sales tax idea is very poorly thought out and is really just bunk. As is the other one for the "infrastructure improvements". Mayor Dever tried to suggest that it would be providing funding to comply with Transportation 2030 requirements. Uh, no, mayor, not quite.

Solutions101 6 years, 4 months ago

The tax-payer's responsibility should have a limit to the public services provided. For example, providing free transportation to overweight "disabled" people to Pizza Hut's door while they enjoy luxuries (transportation and restaurants) on our tax dollars that we ourselves choose not to spend our money that foolishly because we work for it!As for medical trips and such, there are many taxi services that would better suit the needs to an elderly person due to health concerns (heat, cold, means of traveling/waiting at bus station).As with the T, it needs to go. It will eventually be shut down, and the tax will stay, as with all other taxes. For example, income tax began in 1861 during the Civil War to help fund the war. The war ended, but despite, the tax stayed and more followed. Personal income tax should definitely be viewed as the draft: Used only in an extreme time of need, i.e. World War III.With the T being shut down, the City of Lawrence can & will merge with KU without a tax increase. Come on, now they are proposing two different taxes because they realize the tax cannot support the T. They are not even rationalizing. Give me a break!Please Vote NO!

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