Bus advocates urge city to stop diverting tax money

This action was organized by MORE2 (Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity)

By LYNN HORSLEY
The Kansas City Star

Advocates for Kansas City’s bus system urged a City Council committee Thursday to stop using bus tax money for other transportation uses.

Bus supporters said that when voters approved a 3/8-cent sales tax increase for the buses in 2003 and renewed it again in 2008, they did not expect the city to dip into a separate half-cent sales tax for mass transit and take it away from the buses.

Though that budget move is legal, bus supporters said it’s not the right thing to do.

“We the people who voted in good faith now want the council to keep the faith with its electorate,” retired minister Margaret Roberts told the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Roberts and others urged the committee to support a measure sponsored by Councilman Ed Ford that would cap the amount of money the city diverts from buses to other projects.

“The biggest losers of shrinking services are those who can least afford it,” Roberts said, speaking on behalf of a group of churches and social justice organizations.

Advocates for the blind, the disabled and people who lack other ways to get to jobs also supported Ford’s measure.

Mark Huffer, general manager of Kansas City’s Area Transportation Authority, said the 3/8-cent sales tax money had helped stabilize and improve bus services until 2008. But with the economic downturn, sales tax receipts have plummeted.

Meanwhile, the city is now taking more than $5 million from the half-cent sales tax for mass transit and using it for things like traffic signal maintenance and traffic engineering. The ATA’s funding from the half-cent sales tax has dropped from $26 million two years ago to less than $20 million this year.

Public Works Director Stan Harris worried that traffic signal maintenance and traffic engineering would suffer greatly without those sales tax dollars.

Council members put off a decision on Ford’s measure until Dec. 9.

This story originally appeared in the Kansas City Star on November 18, 2010 and is available here: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/11/18/2450641/bus-advocates-urge-city-to-stop.html