Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
San Antonio leaders testifying before the Texas House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday said that the city’s transportation options are not enough to keep up with the area’s population growth.
State Rep. Ina Minjarez and VIA Metropolitan Transit board chair Hope Andrade spoke in favor of a bill that would allow local voters to decide whether to allocate more funds toward transportation projects in the city.
Under House Bill 3258, San Antonio citizens could petition for an increase in the sales and use tax of up to one-half cent in order to boost the local transportation infrastructure. Voters would have to approve the tax increase.
Because the potential increase would exceed the city’s 2 percent sales and use tax rate limit, the Texas Legislature must authorize it.
“As one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States, San Antonio must continue to work toward providing adequate transportation infrastructure for its citizens,” said Minjarez, who co-authored the bill with fellow San Antonio Democrat State Rep. Diego Bernal. “… This bill lets the people decide. … They will decide whether to provide additional funding for roads, highways, and transit projects throughout the community.”
Austin, Dallas, and Houston dedicate a full cent of sales tax revenue to fund transit. The bill would allow San Antonio voters decide whether to fund VIA Metropolitan Transit and mobility projects at a similar level.
Andrade described the agency as “the most cost-effective and least-funded transit system” among the major Texas cities.
“VIA receives just a half-cent sales tax to serve an area roughly the size of Houston Metro’s while Houston, Dallas, and Austin receive a full cent, putting those cities many billions of dollars ahead of San Antonio in mobility funding,” she said.
If San Antonio voters approve the tax increase, the funds would go toward the city’s Advanced Transportation District (ATD) – made up of the City of San Antonio, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and VIA – to fund various transportation and traffic projects.
The City and TxDOT each receive 25 percent of the ATD’s quarter-cent in sales tax revenues, while VIA receives the remaining 50 percent. VIA also gets funding from a half-cent Metropolitan Transit Authority sales tax and received $14.3 million from the City in fiscal year 2018 and 2019 for operation costs.
This has helped the agency increase bus frequency and ridership in two main city corridors, but there is still much more work to be done to make the city’s public transit options more efficient, Andrade said.
“A successful election to expand ATD funding would provide the support necessary to deliver the multimodal transit system our region needs and has told us, loud and clear, that it wants,” she said.
Under its recently announced VIA Reimagined Plan, the agency would improve its services for transit users in various ways, said VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt after the hearing. Improvements would include increasing the frequency of VIA buses, providing more weekend and late-night service, and eventually implementing buses that would operate in dedicated lanes for quicker trips than those in mixed traffic.
Arndt said that such “transformational” projects will require more investment.
“This additional funding would provide us the opportunity – in concert with other funding partners, particularly the federal government – to advance those projects forward,” Arndt said. “Right now, the funding that VIA receives does not allow us to move those projects forward.”
The bill also is sponsored by San Antonio State Reps. Leo Pacheco, Steve Allison, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, and Ray Lopez.
If the House Ways and Means Committee approves the bill, the legislation will then go to the full House. State Sen. José Menendez has introduced a companion Senate bill, which is pending before the Senate Finance Committee.