State of the City: Priorities shift as San Antonio fights off coronavirus-related economic losses

Mayor Ron Nirenberg punts on transportation proposal for recovery efforts

SAN ANTONIO – The “extraordinary times” the city faces resulted in a reshuffling of priorities as laid out by Mayor Ron Nirenberg in his State of the City address Tuesday night.

While San Antonio has managed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the mayor said the pandemic has taken a toll on the city’s economy and budget. Nirenberg spent much of his 20-minute speech advocating for fixing the city’s various inequities as it recovers from the pandemic.

“We know which way we must move and where we must end,” Nirenberg said. “We must find a healthier normal. We must end as an equitable city, where all residents have enough food, a roof over their heads, and a fair chance at an education and a good job.”

But as those issues took center stage, Nirenberg swept the plans that began the year in the spotlight - transportation system improvements - off into the wings.

After commending San Antonio residents on their efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Nirenberg announced city leaders will no longer ask voters to redirect a one-eighth cent sales tax to the transportation system, which was a key part of the ConnectSA mobility and transportation plan.

“This is a painful, but necessary, decision for us," Nirenberg said. "But direct action to ensure a healthful economic recovery means rebuilding now.”

The sales tax was originally planned to fund VIA Metropolitan Transit’s “VIA Reimagined” plan, though the transit agency’s vision for the tax has shifted to more immediate needs as it faces a projected $126 million shortfall over the next five years.

In an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon, ahead of Nirenberg’s speech, the agency said reallocating the one-eighth of a cent sales tax could help VIA restore and maintain its service levels. The tax could bring in a projected $152 million between fiscal 2022 and fiscal 2025, according to a presentation supplied by VIA.

About the Authors: