CFTE Election Preview:
Transit on the Ballot in the March Primaries
With primary season in full swing, public transit is on the ballot this March… along with at least one other notable election…
CFTE is tracking ten transit-related measures in California, Michigan, and Ohio.
We wanted to give you a preview of what we’ve been seeing and what we’re watching for in the coming weeks. As always, you can stay updated as results roll in by checking our website’s campaign tracker.
Campaign Director, APTA’s Center For Transportation Excellence
March 3rd – Super Tuesday Measures
Contra Costa County, California – Measure J
Measure J seeks to institute a half-cent sales tax for transportation and transit. The measure is expected to generate $3.6 billion over 35 years. A similar measure narrowly fell short of California’s 2/3 supermajority requirement to pass in 2016. Since the loss, the County has worked with local transit and environmental groups to make the plan more sustainable and focus more on bus, bike, and pedestrian improvements. Opponents of the measure are largely focusing on an anti-tax message, which is a common refrain we see from anti-transit forces.
Marin and Sonoma Counties, California – Measure I
Measure I seeks to renew Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s (SMART) half-cent sales tax. While the tax isn’t set to expire until 2029, an early renewal would ensure the agency’s financial future and allow for better long-term planning by allowing the agency to refinance bonds and free up money for operating costs. The measure is one of the most contested in the area’s history; it has broken records as the most expensive political contests, with over $2 million raised between both sides. Proponents have focused on the necessity of rail transit in helping low-income voters, decreasing congestion, and fighting climate change. Opponents have questioned SMART’s success thus far in reaching its stated goals.
Redlands, California – Measure G
Measure G would exempt areas around transit stops from certain slow-growth building ordinances, allowing the city to promote transit-oriented development and build “transit villages.” The Yes on Measure G campaign has focused on how this development will reduce traffic and make the city more walkable. Critics have voiced concerns about the village’s density and building height not fitting with the rest of the city.
March 10th – Michigan Primary Measures
Lansing, MI – Capital Area Transportation Authority Millage Renewal
The Capital Area Transportation Authority is asking voters in its service area to renew the millage that funds it through 2025. The campaign has focused on the necessity of the millage in funding public transit in the area – and that less revenue means less service. There does not seem to be strong organized opposition to the measure.
Clare County, MI – Clare County Transit Corporation Millage Increase
The Clare County Transit Corporation is asking for a .2 millage increase. CCTC has stated that this millage would put the County’s transit system on more sustainable financial footing and allow CCTC to reevaluate recent service cuts. There does not seem to be strong organized opposition to the measure.
Saginaw Township, MI – STARS Millage Renewal and Increase
The Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services is asking for a renewal of its millage with a slight increase to a millage of 3.2 mills. The campaign is focusing on how the millage will help STARS provide necessary service increases.
Kalamazoo County, MI – Metro Transit Authority Millage Renewal and Increase
The Kalamazoo County Metro Transit Authority is asking for a renewal of its millage with a slight increase to a millage of .9-mills. The campaign has focused on how the increase is necessary to maintain current levels of service.
Benzie County, MI – Benzie Bus Millage Renewal
Benzie Bus is asking for a renewal of its .49 millage. The millage funds about a third of the agency’s operating budget, and the campaign has focused on the benefits Benzie Bus brings to the community, both to its riders and in economic development.
March 17th – Ohio Primary Measures
Lucas County, OH – Issue 3
The Toledo Area Rapid Transit Authority is seeking a renewal of the levy that funds it, focusing on a message of regional growth and on transit’s ability to help the elderly and disabled get where they need to go. The campaign has also emphasized that there will not be a tax increase if the measure passes. The measure is considered a safety net that would later allow TARTA to pursue a sales tax for more sustainable funding.
Hamilton County, OH – Issue 7
Issue 7 is the second phase of two-part ballot strategy by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). In November, the city of Cincinnati passed Issue 22, a measure that would remove the city’s earnings tax that went to SORTA if a sales tax were passed at the countywide level in March. That cleared the way for Issue 7, which seeks a .8% sales tax with .1% for roads and .7% for transit.
The new tax would fund the Reinventing Metro plan and has found bipartisan support, gaining endorsements from the local Democratic party as well as prominent local conservatives. Proponents have focused on the comprehensive plan to use the tax to improve transportation across the community. Opposition has remained relatively quiet, though most has come from local anti-tax groups.