Toscano starts preparing legislation for Charlottesville-Albemarle transit authority and sales tax referendum
Delegate David Toscano (D-57) has started preparing two pieces of legislation which would, if enacted by the General Assembly, enable Charlottesville and Albemarle to form a joint Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and allow each locality to hold a voter referendum on a new local sales tax of up to 1 cent. If a full cent increase on the sales tax was levied, over $25 million would be raised annually to fund transit and transportation projects in the community.
Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20081125-RTA-WG
The work group of City Councilors and members of the Board of Supervisors who have been facilitating the creation of the RTA met on November 25, 2008 and received an update on the legislative effort. Toscano’s draft bills will be reviewed by the work group and presented to City Council and the Board of Supervisors for approval before they are submitted formally to the General Assembly for the 2009 session.
While the work group has initially asked Toscano to prepare legislation calling for a new sales tax, the officials acknowledged that legislators in Richmond may have a preference for some other revenue source. Alternatively, the General Assembly may not want any local government to be empowered to raise a new tax next year. In October, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) told the work group that he did not yet have enough information to support what he saw as a “very substantial tax increase,” even if it was only enacted via a successful voter referendum.
The local Chamber of Commerce has said it will also have difficulty supporting a sales tax increase. Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) updated the work group on his November 13th presentation to the Chamber’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee. Slutzky said the committee was supportive of the formation of the RTA, but that it preferred for transportation funding to come from the state and that any new revenues be generated from a gas tax. “What was not so clear was their willingness to embrace up to a penny on the sales tax,” said Slutzky. “They had their strong aversion to that.”
“I think we had an adequate airing of the issues,” said Slutzky. “I’m sure they fully understand why we ended up with the recommendation of up to a penny on the sales tax.”
Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he thought it was important to emphasize that the legislation seeking funding authority was tied to a referendum. “When you ask someone, ‘Do you want to increase the sales tax?’ Most businessmen are going to say, ‘No,’ said Rooker. The community, he said, is seeking “support for the public’s right to determine whether or not they will increase the sales tax.”
Slutzky said the Chamber’s Board of Directors would be reviewing the proposal very soon and that they may have additional feedback. “It would be wonderful if we were to receive some sort of an endorsement for what we are trying to accomplish from the Chamber,” said Slutzky.
A common refrain in the questioning of the RTA project by business leaders, legislators, and community members has been, ‘How much money are you going to raise, what road projects would it support, and how much will be earmarked for public transit?’ City Councilor Satyendra Huja suggested it would be helpful if the “draft priority project list” that accompanies the legislative proposal gave some specificity to the amount of funding for transit. Under transit improvements, the estimated cost column had noted that it was “To Be Determined (some costs are eligible for federal or state funding).”
Mayor Dave Norris said, in part to respond to Delegate Bell’s concerns, that it might be good to place a range on the estimated transit operational costs. The work group reached consensus to indicate that transit improvements would be expected to receive between $4 million to $8 million annually for operations. Capital needs, according to the work group, will be largely covered by other state and federal funds.
Bill Watterson, head of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), told Charlottesville Tomorrow after the meeting that his operating budget today is just under $6 million, but that the local contribution from the City and County totaled about $2.75 million. The operations of CTS would be taken over by the new RTA. Thus, if the sales tax was approved by the voters and increased by a full penny, with $4-8 million allocated to transit, that would allow for both increased bus operations and for the remaining $17-21 million to be allocated to other transportation projects each year.
The next meeting of the RTA work group has not been scheduled, but is expected to take place after Delegate Toscano receives draft legislation from the Virginia General Assembly’s Legislative Services staff. City Council and the Board of Supervisors are expected to endorse a final legislative proposal in December or January.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
- 01:30 -- Call to order by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio), Work Group Chairman
- 03:52 – David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), updates work group on Delegate David Toscano’s (D-58) work on legislative proposals
- 06:24 – Blount, Slutzky, and Mayor Dave Norris describe flexibility in approach that may be required when negotiations begin during the General Assembly session.
- 16:00 – Slutzky reports on presentation to Chamber of Commerce’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee
- 21:35 – Slutzky opens discussion on the sales tax funding option. Rooker emphasizes that the sales tax authority would be for up to a penny, but it may not be levied at the full amount.
- 22:20 – Work group discusses possible breakout of funds raised between transit and transportation projects. Agrees to specify that public transit improvements would be specified in a range of $4-8 million annually for operations.
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