Wonder Twins Powers, Activate: Mass Transit Vote!
Mass Transit Tax Proposal takes form of: half-cent sales tax increase (or perhaps a caterpillar?). St. Louis County voters likely to take form of: bucket of cold water. Seriously, though, will Gleek get to ride on the trains if this passes? You know that his body could be used to reconnect trains in emergencies! It’s true, it really could. That is not a joke.
Anyway, what are the good parts of the proposed tax increase to fund both MetroLink expansion and support Metro’s general budget? There are indeed some good points of this proposal. I like the fact that it focuses on connecting MetroLink with employment centers. It is not clear in the article, but my knowledge of the plans is that abandoned railroad lines will be used to form the route, which will obviously save a great deal of money and limit property takings. I like the fact that Metro and St. Louis County are being honest with voters, in that if voters want MetroLink expansion, they know they will only get it with a tax increase, and if they don’t, they know they can end expansion with this vote.
Whether you support it or not, this proposal lays it out pretty clearly. I sort of like the fact that this would free up county funds for some important road projects, but, alas, those could be done without the tax increase, just by decreasing the amount the county gives to Metro now. I am NOT saying the county should decrease the Metro subsidy now, just that they could if they chose to.
I completely agree with this very clear statement from a county aide in the Post-Dispatch:
“Infrastructure precedes investment,” Jones told municipal leaders at the league meeting in Ferguson. “It provides a framework for private investment. Transportation is the first investment. You have to move goods and people,” he said.
What do I dislike about the proposal? I don’t like some of the arguments being put forth in favor of it. This one is particularly bad:
The county’s second theme is that MetroLink expansion would reduce traffic congestion. Cline said that between 1992 and 1997, cities without a rail system saw congestion increase by 52 percent and those with one had only a 32 percent boost in congestion.
Really, perhaps this is the reporter’s fault for not including supporting information, but those statistics are not proof of anything. Perhaps congestion increased more in cities without light rail because those cities tend to be newer and more open, and more people chose to move to those locations. Congestion worsened in, say, Phoenix or Las Vegas because lots of people moved there, not because they didn’t have light rail. Perhaps lower taxes, made possible by the lack of an expensive light rail system, enticed people to move there.
The above argument is a classic example of confusing correlation with causation. There are other problems with the arguments, but reducing congestion and pollution are obvious canards. Even if MetroLink expansion succeeds beyond our expectations, the number of autos taken off the roads will be so small as to have no meaningful effect on either congestion or pollution.
Supporters would be much better off just taking the direct approach to voters: If we expand MetroLink, some of you will benefit from it, and it will give employees many of whom need mass transit better options for getting to work. That is the argument I will use when I vote in favor of the tax increase next year. Will 50 percent plus 1 in St. Louis County join me? We’ll see.