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VIA, City Of San Antonio To Call For Sales Tax Election In November After Reaching Compromise

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Ryan Loyd
/
Texas Public Radio
Earlier this month, the VIA board voted to explore adding to the tax to the November ballot to address what VIA calls chronic underfunding.

The City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit have reached an agreement on calling an election for a proposed sales tax that would fund both transit and COVID-19 relief.
The 1/8-cent sales tax that currently funds aquifer protection is expiring. Earlier this month, the VIA board voted to explore adding to the tax to the November ballot to address what VIA calls chronic underfunding. City and county officials initially balked at the idea; however, VIA and the city have compromised with two referendums to the general election ballot.

Under the proposal, voters would be asked to consider both initiatives at once. The first would fund a workforce and development program, as Bexar County residents deal with a loss of jobs during the pandemic for a temporary period of time. That money would then be permanently dedicated to VIA.

| Related: VIA May Ask Voters For Sales Tax During November Election |

“By working together, we have crafted a plan for recovering from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically changed our community’s employment landscape,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “This approach will prepare San Antonians for jobs with a future while ensuring the long-term health of our transit system.”

The agreement comes after city and county officials publicly disagreed with VIA’s push for the sales tax referendum on its own. The tax was slated to be part of Nirenberg’s transportation plan known as ConnectSA, but he ended the bid to take it to voters at the beginning of June.

Both Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff previously said this was not the time to take a transportation initiative on the ballot. However, the compromise appears to appease both sides.

If passed, the tax could generate about $36–40 million per year, but full plans for the funds haven’t yet been announced.

VIA is facing an estimated five-year budget shortfall of $111 million based on a projection from June. That’s already after using $95 million in federal funding from the CARES Act.

The city has created an $80 million workforce development plan for workers impacted by the pandemic, but it’s not immediately clear if the proposed sales tax measure would supplement it.

Both the VIA Board of Trustees and the San Antonio City Council will have to vote by mid-August to place the measures on the ballot.

“This collaboration is a significant step toward making sure no San Antonian gets left behind,” VIA Board Chair Hope Andrade said. “It allows us to move together toward recovery and is a testament to what is possible when we work for a common goal. By asking voters to prioritize long-term funding for public transportation we can secure a viable resource that provides access to lifeline services our community needs and deserves.”

This story may be updated.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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