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The best bus ever
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

'The quarter cent was huge'

Last week, I wrote, quoting a Dan Popkey column:

that Rep. Bob Schaefer "might support a tax that's capped at 0.25 percent." (That's awfully low, if the money would be used to fund both highway projects and transit. If people want to vote for half a cent, why can't we?)

Well, I'm just back from the City Club of Boise transit forum, where Lane Beattie of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce explained how the SLC business community rallied folks to pass - by a two-thirds majority, "in arguably the West's most conservative state" - a proposal that raised taxes by a quarter-cent to help fund improved roads and a transit system that has far surpassed ridership expectations. "The quarter cent was huge," Beattie said, in giving the Utah Transit Authority a sustainable funding source and bonding ability for improvements and maintenance. It's worth noting here that Beattie is a conservative Republican who slashed taxes as president of the Utah Senate.

Before the vote even took place, transit backers had to convince a governor who said he'd never allow a special session on transit funding to do exactly that. Beattie noted that, in many cases, proponents had to sit down one-on-one with tax-averse lawmakers to make the case that good transit is good for business, and that the cost of waiting would be more than the state could bear. For rural lawmakers, Salt Lake transit supporters urged a big-picture, statewide view, noting that "if you get gridlock in Davis County, you stop economic development in Moab." And yes, they said candidly: "Light rail doesn't pay for itself. That's true, but neither do highways."

Granted, Salt Lakers have some things going for them that we don't, namely a metro population nearly four times our size and development patterns that - so far - have been very linear along the Wasatch Front. Also, a quarter-cent tax increase no doubt buys a lot more in a region that attracts big tourism, including Japanese visitors who spend as much as $600 a day to ski and ride "the greatest snow on Earth."

"I can't tell you whether (transit) is needed in your community," Beattie said. But if it is, he added, he urged the business community to take the lead in making the case that gridlock and poor air quality are bad for businesss - and that, as the Utah ad campaign noted, when it comes to committing to adequate transit funding, "the longer we wait ... the longer we wait."

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