Sunday, October 25, 2009

Voting for Streetlights, Manhole Cover Locations

I don't quite understand where there is this want to vote for transit improvements that aren't related to tax increases. The most recent example of this after Cincinnati's issue 9 is Boise, where local city council member Dave Lister is looking to put a measure on the Ballot that would require a 50% vote to build a streetcar even though there is no tax increase involved.

The precedent for this is Capital Metro in Austin, which is the only public agency in the United States that has ever required a vote for city services for which it already had the money to construct. In fact if a vote was required for every rail project in the United States we might not have successful rail projects in San Diego, Houston, or Denver who's first lines were built with existing funds without voter approval.

We don't have votes for road expansions, only bond measures to pay for them. We don't have votes for water treatment plants or new sewer systems that we have money for. Perhaps if we need to raise money we would ask the people. What is so different about rail transit infrastructure that requires a pure democratic vote? Isn't that why we elect city council members? To make more informed decisions on these issues than the general electorate can take on.

It's actually a road we've been traveling down in California and other places where elected officials wimp out behind expected voter mandates instead of taking a strong stand. Many places have councils that have taken a stand against streetcars and other projects which is great because they are stepping up to say yes or no, but whenever a council gets close to making a decision in their favor, it seems like these pure democracy votes pop up for something that doesn't require a tax increase. Ultimately infrastructure decisions shouldn't be left up to a vote unless there is a tax increase involved. I imagine that nothing would ever get done if it were the case that every infrastructure decision needed a vote. It's bad enough as it is with lacking political will in this country to do anything forward thinking, why put another layer on it?


Francis Bell said...
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John Schneider said...

Actually, Austin's situation is different from Cincinnati's.

In Austin, the state imposed the requirement for an election in all cities less than 750,000 people in order to build rail even if no tax increase is being asked.

In Cincinnati, voters are being asked to amend the city's charter to require votes on any kind of right-of-way acquisiton -- you read that right, any kind of right-of-way acquisition -- or spend any money for rail.

Wait until road opponents figure out they will be able to use Cincinnati's "anti-rail" language to their advantage.

However, it looks like it will fail.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Cincinnati just finish their already half-built subway?