SAN ANTONIO – Although San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has already stated his opposition to redirecting a 1/8 cent sales tax to the city’s mass transit system, the VIA Metropolitan Transit board voted to move ahead with the initiative on Thursday.
Nirenberg had once championed the ballot proposal, but after the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor said the sales tax could be used for more immediate needs.
In a lengthy statement issued by VIA Board Chair Hope Andrade on behalf of the entire board, the trustees say the transit system has long been neglected.
“This is not about filling a budget hole created by COVID-19,” the statement read. “It is about closing the opportunity gaps created by 40 years of chronic underfunding.”
City leaders could not come up with an alternative funding source in time for the July 6 deadline the board had to give its notice of intent for the referendum, Andrade said.
“The VIA Board would be negligent in its duty to sustain the system if we stood by and watched funding which was originally made available for transit diverted to other uses and did not appeal to the voters,” she said. “If we do not act now, we may not have the opportunity again.”
Nirenberg commented on the vote Thursday, saying that while he is a supporter of mass transit, the “community needs to take a step back to reevaluate our priorities.”
“Right now, more than 140,000 San Antonians have applied for unemployment since mid-March and our economic recovery could be thwarted by a continued surge of COVID-19,” Nirenberg said in a statement.
City Council had committed $10 million to help VIA continue its operations, but it would be subject to the council’s approval and falls short of the commitment riders need, Andrade said.
Both sides expressed a willingness to come to an agreement on the issue before Aug. 17, the deadline for the board to call for the election.