StarTran as a Taxing Entity

November 19, 2008 at 2:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Apparently there’s talk of creating a transit authority in Lincoln. That would mean the City Council would no longer have to deal with StarTran’s budget, routes, and so on. Instead, those responsibilities would fall on a board of some sort. The authority would have the power to tax, meaning it would show up as a separate line item on tax bills.

Arguably, the biggest downside to a “Lincoln Transit Authority” would be a loss of public attention on transit matters. Most people probably don’t care about that, except that it would be very easy for the “LTA” to pass tax increases without anyone noticing. It is, of course, the public’s responsibility to pay attention to these things, and any taxes associated with the authority will likely be pretty small. But a tax increase is a tax increase, and Lincolnites won’t like that they might miss one.

Never mind that Lincolnites pay little attention to the biggest property tax collector of them all (LPS) right now.

I think a transit authority could be great for StarTran. Of course, it could also be a mess, for StarTran and for Lincoln. Based on the little we know at this point, what does your gut tell you about the idea?

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The Comments

foxspit November 19, 2008 at 5:23pm

I guess I’m not sure how I feel yet. Giving StarTran more autonomy doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what it needs.

Anything to make it more responsive is a good thing. If it becomes a bloated line item on the budget, then that could be a big problem.

See? I have no idea what I think yet.

Peter November 19, 2008 at 9:14pm

One reason that all major cities (NYC, Chicago, Washington, Dallas, LA, etc) have transit authorities is that it largely takes politics out of the daily management of the system.  You don’t have routes and fares and basic services becoming political pawns.

Another reason addresses the situation in St. Louis (from where I just returned and used their fantastic MetroLink light rail) is that a state sanctioned transit authority can span state lines.  Bi-State Development (the transit authority) spans St. Louis MO and several Illinois counties, since much of the eastern side of the Mississippi rely on St. Louis for jobs, services, entertainment etc.

As for taxes going unnoticed, every tax I’ve ever seen has been on a ballot with much notification and discussion.

Maybe a cooperative effort with the Omaha authority could put together a plan for light rail between Lincoln and Omaha - airport to airport through downtowns… maybe a stop in growing La Vista??

All in all - a very positive idea, IMO.

foxspit November 19, 2008 at 11:23pm

Good point. A Lincoln transit authority would be a huge step toward a cooperative effort with Omaha.

Mr. Wilson November 20, 2008 at 2:29pm

You’re a much more optimistic guy than I if you honestly think that transit authorities are inherently apolitical. The politics may be different, but they won’t be gone. All government is political.

Then there’s this:

<blockquote>As for taxes going unnoticed, every tax I

Moses November 20, 2008 at 3:10pm

Voting on every tax is way too cumbersome.  That is why we have representatives.

Mr. Wilson November 20, 2008 at 3:16pm

Agreed.

To clarify: I hope I didn’t imply that we should vote on every little decision (including tax decisions). I was only countering Peter’s assertion that we already do.

Swid November 20, 2008 at 3:37pm

Pro: Giving StarTran its independence would free it from the caustic politics of the City Council.

Con: It would almost certainly develop a caustic political life of its own.

Pro: Working with Omaha would become easier (especially if ideas like this are ever to become anything besides a hopeful fantasy).

Con: As Lincoln’s built-up area is, for all intents and purposes, coterminous with the City of Lincoln, there’s little need to create a separate authority that will deal with only one government subdivision.

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