The Asterisk in Streetcar Reporting
Bill Turque over at The Kansas City Star wrote the standard piece on this week’s streetcar extension vote, and gave some attention to the uncertainty of necessary federal funds,
Taxes will not be collected until construction is ready to begin.
But the tax funds will not come close to covering the cost of building the new line. The KC Streetcar Authority will also seek $100 million in federal funds. Earlier this year Congress rolled back the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts in transit funding. But the outlook for help from Washington remains uncertain.
That assertion isn’t wrong, but it is woefully incomplete. As we’ve reported previously, the Jackson County court ruling allowing for the creation of the transportation development district that will levy taxes for the streetcar includes an important restriction: No taxes or assessments are to be collected from within the district until enough external funding—in this case federal funds—is available.
And those federal funds are indeed uncertain. The Trump administration position seems to be that it won’t hand out construction money for transit capital grants unless a previous administration signed a full-funding grant agreement, and no such agreement is in place for Kansas City’s streetcar. The Federal Transit Administration has previously called for the New Starts/Small Starts grant program—on which the Kansas City effort is dependent for funding—to be scrapped. As of now it is authorized only through 2021, after which it will cease to exist. Congress seems unwilling to reauthorize it.
Even if the occupants of Congress or the White House change significantly in 2018 or 2020, we are a long way from receiving any federal money for the streetcar, money necessary to permit the TDD to collect taxes and assessments. In the meantime, expect streetcar advocates to start looking elsewhere for their financial support.