San Antonio mayor claims VIA wants to ask voters for 1/8th cent tax, says he will not support ballot proposal

VIA spokesperson tells KSAT they have not received memo; board chair, mayor, county judge to meet Monday

VIA Bus (VIA Metropolitan Transit)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is asking City Council members to look into VIA Metropolitan Transit’s financial situation, according to a memo obtained by KSAT 12.

In the memo, Nirenberg said VIA officials are considering asking voters in November to approve the allocation of the 1/8th cent sales tax to go toward transportation funding.

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“Despite the delay of an expanded transit network, VIA officials are considering asking the voters to approve the allocation of the 1/8th cent sales tax — roughly estimated to be $40 million in annual revenues — to restore pre-COVID-19 service levels,” Nirenberg stated in the memo.

VIA board chairwoman still hopeful 1/8 cent sales tax will go to transit agency

Nirenberg said he’s asking VIA officials to present the steps they are taking to manage operations within their current budget with their recent CARES Act allocation.

“Because we have not seen a detailed five-year financial forecast laid out in a way to which we are accustomed, it is concerning that VIA Metropolitan Transit is still projecting a $218.5 million deficit in their unrestricted cash reserve balance,” Nirenberg stated in the memo.

Although Nirenberg pushed for investments into the city’s transit system, he said he would not support the ballot measure.

“I cannot support a November 2020 election to allocate the 1/8th cent sales tax to VIA Metropolitan Transit and would greatly appreciate (the council’s) support for a full review of VIA’s financial situation,” Nirenberg stated in the memo to council members.

Nirenberg said while public transportation is critical to the area’s success, the order must be revisited as the city moves beyond the pandemic. He also said city leaders must work to ensure that public transportation services are available for residents who depend on them.

“I look forward to ensuring discussions and working with each of you to realize our mutual goals to benefit the city of San Antonio and its residents,” Nirenberg stated in the memo.

Rachel Benavidez, communications director for VIA, sent KSAT the following statement:

“We have not received a memo from the Mayor’s Office. We are looking forward to meeting with the Mayor and County Judge on Monday and continuing the dialogue that they, and our Board Chair, have agreed to have.

“Additionally, please note that VIA undergoes an annual audit and our financial information is provided every month in detail, in open session.

“We’re confident that a financial review will reaffirm what the Mayor once used as a reason to invest in transit for our City and region— that VIA is chronically underfunded and has done more with less for over 40 years to keep San Antonio moving. These facts have not changed.

The 1/8th cent, once championed to expand transit, is still needed to simply preserve transit service for those who rely on it.”

About the Authors

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio since 2016. His work for KSAT 12 and includes covering breaking news of the day, as well as producing Q&As and content for the "South Texas Pride" and "KSAT Money" series.

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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