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Voters in Pulaski County on Tuesday defeated a proposal to raise the countywide sales tax by a quarter of a percentage point to increase transit options throughout the county.

With all 137 precincts reporting, the unofficial vote totals were:

Against 48,841

For 36,791

The vote for the first tax solely dedicated to Rock Region Metro was projected to raise an estimated $18 million annually. The transit agency planned to use the proceeds to expand regular bus service, increase the frequency of stops on its busiest routes, tailor other routes to best serve its customers and establish some routes using larger buses on traffic lanes reserved for them.

Despite the defeat, transit agency supporters said they were heartened by the vote and plan to make another attempt to pass it.

"We're encouraged," said Jimmy Moses, a developer who is a member of the agency's board of trustees and served as co-chairman of the Committee to Connect campaign promoting the tax initiative. "We've got a base line. We're absolutely convinced that within the next two or three years that enough people will think it's the right thing to do.

"I think it's very do-able."

Opponents of the tax increase said the outcome was convincing.

"The voters of Pulaski County sent an overwhelming message tonight that they are taxed enough already," said David Ray, state director for the Americans for Prosperity state chapter, which said volunteers knocked on 5,000 doors and made 39,000 telephone calls to "alert" voters about the tax. "Instead of doubling the budget for public transit, voters want to keep taxes low and focus on the core functions of government like roads, education, and public safety."

In the months leading up to the vote, Rock Region, formerly known as Central Arkansas Transit Authority, adopted a new name and a new paint scheme for its fleet; acquired more than a dozen buses powered by compressed natural gas, an alternative to the diesel engines the rest of the fleet uses; made free Wi-Fi available to customers; and recently introduced a mobile phone app that includes the ability to track buses in real time.

But Rock Region supporters say the region needed a dedicated tax that would allow the agency more autonomy to improve service and attract more riders, especially so-called choice riders who don't have to take a bus but would if the service was more convenient.

But Tuesday night's vote means the transit agency will have to rely on the funding mechanism in place since 1986. Since that year, the transit agency has relied primarily on annual contributions from the county and its major cities, which total about $12.5 million. Other funds, including federal aid and ticket revenue, boost the agency's annual operating budget to about $16 million for 2016.

The contributions are based on routes in Little Rock, North Little Rock and other parts of the county. That funding system limits Rock Region's ability to modify routes that might serve customers better and attract more riders, agency supports say. It is a system that Jarod Varner, the Rock Region executive director, has said "completely inhibits growth."

The campaign in support of the tax increase was low-budget, with the committee collecting $22,075 in contributions, according to a recently filed financial report. It had spent all but $420.39.

The Committee to Connect campaign and Rock Region presentations on what the tax approval would mean for mass transit in the county attracted several endorsements, including the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Maumelle Chamber of Commerce, the Metroplan board of directors and, most recently, the Central Arkansas Library System board of trustees.

Metro on 03/02/2016

Print Headline: Tax rise for buses loses; backers vow to try again

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Archived Comments

  • BensonHedges
    March 2, 2016 at 7:50 a.m.

    Mr. Tucker will be reaching into your pockets again soon. As Leona Helmsly famously said "rich people don't pay taxes" Millionaires in Little Rock make their purchases online, don't pay sales tax (a felony) so why not raise taxes on single parents buying a bag of diapers?

  • Jackabbott
    March 2, 2016 at 9:13 a.m.

    Defeat it again. Using tax funds to provide transportation for a selected few needs to be grounded down and out and defeated. If you see some of these buses, many, many times are they are practically running empty, so it is big boondoggle. The managers are just trying to gain more tax $$$$ for raises and bonuses similar to other governmental groups in Pulaski County.

  • RBBrittain
    March 2, 2016 at 10:01 a.m.

    Do either of you actually LIVE in Pulaski County? The backer's name is Jimmy Moses, NOT "Mr. Tucker" (presumably Rett Tucker, unless you're hallucinating about Jim Guy). And I betcha the two of you buy more from Amazon than either Jimmy Moses OR Rett Tucker -- not to mention your stereotypical single mom probably rode the bus to buy those diapers!

  • RBBrittain
    March 2, 2016 at 10:16 a.m.

    Jackabbott, you shoulda been reading the articles. One of the big reasons for the empty buses is RRM can't adjust its routes to deal with changing demographics without potentially jeopardizing its funding stream. The Granite Mountain and East Sixth buses are prime examples; each lost significant numbers of riders when the housing projects on those routes closed and doesn't have enough riders to justify the route anymore, but cutting those routes would cut Little Rock's RRM contributions significantly. The tax would have stabilized RRM's revenue to where it could have replaced those low-ridership routes with smaller, on-demand buses to serve not only those areas, but also places like West Little Rock. Now, you're stuck with those empty buses...

  • drs01
    March 2, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    RB - Tucker or Moses ..what difference does the name make? It's the message that's true. Moses have been sucking up tax dollars for his own gain for years. Some believe he's the Moses that is leading them to the promise land of a revitalize tax payer subsidized downtown Little Rock. The bus service by any new name is a welfare transportation service we already pay to support. Giving them another $18 million will only lead to bloated salaries for their execs and pissing and moaning from the LR Board of Directors that these guys make more money than Bruce Moore who does 10 times the work. Ask the bus boys how much we are paying for that yellow empty tourist trolley. There is a waste! This time the downtown visionaries with their hands in our pockets got their ass beat.

  • NoUserName
    March 2, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

    LR simply does not have the population to support mass transit. Only 1% of the metro area use them on a daily basis.
    .
    "Do either of you actually LIVE in Pulaski County?"
    .
    A typical response from you. I DO live there AND I've ridden mass transit before.

  • Packman
    March 2, 2016 at 11:22 a.m.

    The question is defeated by almost 15%, and the backers feel "encouraged"? These people are delusional, or libs, or both, but I repeat myself......
    .
    More failed lib social policies. Libs invite inner city residents outside the inner city via free and subsidized housing and can't understand why the bus riders in the inner city are down.
    .
    Hey drs01 - "The bus service by any new name is a welfare transportation service we already pay to support." You nailed it. Nice.

  • Dontcallmenames
    March 2, 2016 at 11:41 a.m.

    If they want to save money, they need to quit running buses west of Shackleford. The rest of us of are tightening our budget every day, and the bus line should as well. There's no reason for a city bus going out to Pinnacle Mountain!

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