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Washoe Voters May See Ballot Question On Transit Funding

Regional Transportation Commission

Washoe County voters could see a ballot question asking for more transit funding in the next few years. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports.

Public transit in Washoe will see major service cuts by 2019 if the Regional Transportation Commission can't find more money. That's why the RTC created a citizen advisory group to come up with ideas. That group just put together its final recommendations, which include asking voters to approve a 1/8-cent increase to the sales tax.

"Nobody has a crystal ball to say what will work and what won't," says Tray Abney with Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce. 

Abney says the success of a ballot question relies on factors that change from one election to the next. For example, last year's red wave could prove helpful in getting a tax hike approved in 2016 since it's likely that more Democrats will come out to the polls:

"You know, I'm not being partisan here to say that democrats tend to be more likely to vote for a tax increase than Republicans would. In 2016, you're going to have more democrats turn out. You're going to have a presidential race. Senator Harry Reid will probably run for reelection and his turnout machine is second to none."

Next year's ballot will already be crowded with two other high-profile questions on  legalizing recreational marijuana and increasing gun sale background checks. With that kind of noise, it could be tough to raise awareness for a topic as un-sexy as transit funding. But waiting could leave room for a lot of unknowns.

"2018 could be completely different," Abney explains. "Turnout is going to be a lot less in an off year--non-presidential year. You're going to have a governor's race--Governor Sandoval's won't be able to run again, so you're going to have new players there."

Another option could be to take some sales tax revenue that's going to road maintenance now and move that over to transit. The citizen advisory group only supports doing this if other funding, from the fuel tax, continues to increase. That way road maintenance won't lose out on its fair share.

As for service cuts, the group said they should be a last resort, not a preemptive cost-saving strategy.

All of these suggestions now head to the RTC board for final approval.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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