November 11, 2016
Nashville Business Journal
From day one, the biggest question surrounding the region’s $6 billion mass-transit expansion has been, “How will we pay for it?”
This week, we got the first real look at the potential answers.
On Wednesday, members of the business-led coalition Moving Forward detailed seven potential local funding options that they believe are viable solutions to paying for the region’s nMotion transit plan.
Moving Forward, which is funded by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, based its findings off a report by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute that the Nashville chamber paid for. The Canadian research organization examined 20 funding options before narrowing the field to seven potential tax increases and fees for Middle Tennessee.
And while officials and business leaders agree that Middle Tennesseans will have some financial stake in the region’s mass-transit plan, the debate hangs on how much voters will be willing to open their pocketbooks.
The Nashville chamber has been a vocal proponent of more mass-transit options in the region. Ultimately, any funding proposal that will appear on voters’ ballots will originate from local municipalities, such as Mayor Megan Barry’s office. Barry has said she would release her own funding proposal by the end of the year.
But the chamber’s proposal provides a first glimpse at what will inevitably be a hard sell, especially since the chamber estimates half the plan’s $6 billion price tag will need to come from local sources.
The mayor’s office has not said how much funding it expects to come from local sources versus state or federal dollars, but Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer has publicly said Nashville need not look to TDOT for funding.
This means convincing local voters to increase taxes or fees to pay for transit in Nashville is critical if the city wants to move forward with its plan.
Many of the most vocal critics of the city’s failed Amp bus project lamented the plan’s public outreach, saying former Mayor Karl Dean failed to adequately inform voters about how the Amp would fit into a larger transit overhaul. For this reason, the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Middle Tennessee Regional Transit Authority, along with Barry’s office, have focused on educating the public as they promoted the nMotion plan this year.