For years, MATA has struggled with inconsistent funding and consistent cuts in budget. This has created challenges with routes, hours of service, equipment and human resources. The result is inadequate public transportation.
With an over 30 percent poverty rate and double-digit unemployment, improved public transportation is critical to greater economic development and employment. Consistent, reliable and safe public transportation is needed for people to get to and from work. The same is true for entertainment, shopping and recreational destinations.
The City Council –specifically Edmund Ford Jr. – has finally presented an opportunity to solidify the funding and services of MATA. The proposed tax is estimated to generate $3 million to $6 million dollars annually, all dedicated to MATA. This will allow MATA to solidify routes in areas with the highest demand, extend services to new areas, enhance the fleet with more fuel- efficient buses, improve shelters for waiting customers and improve service overall.
Additionally, we must appeal to our Congressman to bring to bear greater federal resources to enhance at higher levels our public transportation infrastructure. Most large cities have secured federal support in strengthening their public transportation.
A one-cent tax on gas is also a way to capture revenue from many of those that choose not to live in Memphis, yet work, play and visit the city regularly without contributing to support the infrastructure and services. As state law prevents the levying of payroll taxes and toll/road taxes, this is a smart and fair way to generate additional revenue that improves public transportation and contributes ultimately to improved economic development.
Many argue that this is a regressive tax, hitting hardest those with the least resources. Given the limited options, this is a smart and fair approach.
Some have fairly pointed out that various taxes were previously approved and levied for one purpose and then used for another. Some say taxes have been levied that were supposed to be short term in nature but later became permanent. Ultimately, this is where the will and role of voters must be exercised. We must become more diligent in holding our elected officials accountable. When they don't do as they said they would, expose them and vote them out of office. Past failures by elected officials is not reason enough to vote down this measure, which is needed to enhance public transportation.
The New Tri-State Defender recommends voters support the proposed one-cent gas tax put forth by the City Council. MATA needs a dedicated funding stream to provide enhanced public transportation services leading to easier access to jobs, services and recreation for more of the city's residents.