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Kansas Citians vote to keep and possibly add buses


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Heres some news from the Kansas City Star of the vote to keep the bus system going.

Voters say yes to ATA

DAVID EULITT/The Kansas City Star

Cheers greeted early election results Tuesday. Kansas City Councilwoman Saundra McFadden-Weaver celebrated the ATA's win Tuesday at Porter's Bar & Deli in Westport. Weaver, a minister, had worn her “I Love the Bus” T-shirt during church sermons.

Kansas City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a sales tax increase to rescue the Metro bus service and prevent service cuts that would have stranded thousands.

With all precincts reporting, the vote was 27,953-14,612, or 66 percent to 34 percent, in support of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority's three-eights-cent increase.

Voters also soundly rejected Clay Chastain's competing half-cent transit sales tax increase 26,760-14,986, or 64 percent to 36 percent.

It marked Chastain's sixth unsuccessful attempt to win voter approval for one of his transit plans.

Supporters of the ATA gathered at Porter's in Westport to celebrate the victory.

“Voters recognized the importance of public transit to the community as a basic service and as a part of economic development and for working people to get to their jobs,” said Ed Ford, a former city councilman who was a co-chairman of the tax campaign.

Tuesday's election offered Kansas City voters a unique chance to decide between two transit proposals that presented dramatically different visions.

The ATA's proposal called for a tax increase to eliminate a deficit, prevent bus route reductions, make modest service improvements and pay other expenses. It will raise about $110 million over five years.

Chastain's $650 million plan offered a wide range of transit modes, including streetcars and a light-rail line.

Union Station would have been the system's hub.

At party for the ATA tax supporters, Mayor Kay Barnes addressed a jubilant crowd of officials, bus riders and advocacy groups that worked to get out the vote.

“We wouldn't have been able to do this without the people in this room,” Barnes said.

“This was truly a grass-roots effort.”

At Union Station, where Chastain gathered with a small group of supporters, the mood was very different.

Chastain repeated his vow to lead no more petition drives in Kansas City.

“Question 3 was designed, like all the rest of my initiatives, to bring the highest good to Kansas City and all of its people,” he said, “and the majority of the voting public obviously does not agree with my vision.”

Chastain, who had criticized the competing bus plan, declined comment on the ATA measure.

Chastain's proposal drew opposition from Citizens for Responsible Spending, a committee that has opposed light-rail measures.

Another group, the Jackson County Taxpayers Association, opposed both plans.

“They (supporters of Question 1) had $200,000 in contributions and a lot of mailings and signs and television ads,” said Bob Gough, director of the association. “(We) had no money at all. Money is the milk of politics.”

The passage of the ATA plan was the first increase in its transit funding structure in 30 years, said Mark Huffer, general manager of the ATA.

“This bodes well for opportunities to build a regional transit system in the future,” Huffer said.

Johnny Humphrey, a Kansas City resident who depends on the bus to get to work and to church, was with a group that helped register about 10,000 voters in anticipation of the transit election.

“We can have bus service on the weekend, and we'll have more routes established,” Humphrey said. “I'm feeling great.”

ATA plan

The ATA said it needed the tax increase to provide bus service for the thousands who rely on it. About 45 percent of its riders have no other means of transportation, the ATA said.

To keep the buses on the streets, the ATA proposed raising the existing half-cent transit sales tax approved in 1973. Kansas City's transit sales tax accounts for about 57 percent of the ATA's $50.4 million operating budget.

But the tax revenue has not been enough, and the agency had projected a $12 million deficit for next year.

ATA officials said the deficit was caused by state and federal funding cuts and slow growth in sales taxes. The city also used about $7.8 million from the transit fund between 1996 and 2003 for other uses, including developers' tax breaks.

The ATA had said that unless voters approved the tax increase, it would have had to cut service by eliminating Saturday night and Sunday service, cutting eight routes, reducing several others and stopping weekend service to Kansas City International Airport.

With the tax increase, the ATA plans to add 12 new routes and improve 13 others, starting in late 2004. It will take two to three years to phase in all of the improvements, ATA officials said.

During the campaign, critics questioned the importance of the ATA. The Jackson County Taxpayers Association asked why taxpayers should spend more for a system that serves a small percentage of the public.

Instead of a tax increase, opponents suggested that the agency make more budget cuts. ATA officials said the agency already had cut its budget more than 10 percent since 2001.

Chastain's Plan

To develop his proposal, Chastain said, he studied Kansas City transit plans and those in other cities, and talked to transit officials around the country.

Chastain and his supporters placed his proposal on the ballot by collecting petition signatures.

His plan called for making Union Station a transit hub with electric buses, streetcars and light rail running from the landmark to various parts of the city.

Buses and bike trails would feed these lines.

The diverse modes of transit would have matched the needs of various parts of the community and would have sparked economic growth, he said.

Chastain's measure would have generated about $400 million over 12 years and would have used $250 million to attract $250 million in federal money.

Critics said Chastain's plan relied too much on uncertain federal funding. They said a number of cities have their applications ahead of Kansas City and Chastain's proposal needed more study.

Chastain disagreed. He said the local matching funds in his plan would have allowed Kansas City to compete for the federal money. He said his system could be built in six years.

To reach Benita Y. Williams


DAVID EULITT/The Kansas City Star

Cheers greeted early election results Tuesday. Kansas City Councilwoman Saundra McFadden-Weaver celebrated the ATA's win Tuesday at Porter's Bar & Deli in Westport. Weaver, a minister, had worn her “I Love the Bus” T-shirt during church sermons.

Albert (Shoowaa)

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Public transit with its funding tied to sales taxes will always be under funded and subject to constant attacks by pols looking to slash its funding instead of their own pet projects.

It's good to see that the citizens have made a wise investment in public transit.

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