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San Antonio Voters Approve Sales Tax for Workforce Development and Transportation

Courtesy VIA Metropolitan Transit

San Antonio voters cast the final decision on two sales tax propositions that use the same pot of money at different times.

It was an overwhelming victory for both propositions. Voters approved Prop B – the city’s "SA Ready to Work" initiative with 77% percent of the vote, and VIA Metropolitan Transit’s Prop A received 67%. Both props had about 495,000 voters cast a ballot.

The city’s plan proposes to train at least 40,000 workers over the next four years for in-demand jobs. It’s mostly targeted to people who have lost their jobs in the pandemic, but the program is open to everyone. The VIA sales tax would provide additional funding to VIA, the city and Bexar County to the tune of about $38 million per year split between the agencies.

Both the city and VIA sent their proposals to voters in August. The city’s plan mirrors an existing workforce development program using federal coronavirus relief funds.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said SA Ready To Work will get San Antonians into high demand jobs.

“But also… break cycles of generational poverty that has held back San Antonio families and the San Antonio community for years,” Nirenberg said. “This is our effort to jump start the San Antonio economy to get folks back to work safely.”

COPS/Metro, a local community organization that advocates for families, workers and progessive issues – helped recraft the ballot language and ran multiple voter outreach initiatives. Sister Jane Ann Slater, a leader with COPS/Metro said SA Ready To Work would prepare people for jobs that would be waiting for them.

“These will be high paying jobs, this will not be barely making it jobs,” Slater said. “These will be the jobs that a lot of the businesses are going outside of San Antonio to find workers because we don’t have prepared workerers."

VIA’s funding wouldn’t kick in until 2026 when the city’s workforce development program will sunset its use of the money. With voters approving VIA’s use, VIA president and CEO Jeffrey Arndt says the transit authority’s budget will become more certain with the funding from the sales tax.

“This funding will help us lay out a pathway to improvements in expanding mobility options, including more mobility on demand including advanced rapid transit type products,” said Arndt.

The 1/8th cent sales tax was previously used for aquifer protection and development of a liner park system that voters overwhelmingly approved every five years since 2000. But the tax was then shifted to other ideas.

Before the pandemic, the city and VIA had looked towards using that sales tax for a plan called ConnectSA that would develop multiple transportation initiatives over the next couple of decades.

That plan shifted over the summer as COVID-19 left thousands of San Antonians without jobs. Nirenberg dropped his intent for using the sales tax money for transportation, putting the city at odds with VIA for a brief time.

The city developed the proposition as a response to assist people who lost their jobs during the pandemic but it’s open to anyone who wants to apply. A similar program now exists at the city using federal coronavirus relief funds.

The city and VIA reached a compromise where the city would collect the money first for four years and then it would transfer to VIA which resulted in the two proposals that ended up on the November ballot.

With both issues approved, the sales tax will continue collecting next year, essentially resulting in no change in the sales tax rate.

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