At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard has filed several pieces of legislation that he says are aimed at initiating a discussion about the long-term funding of The Amp.
In particular, Tygard's proposals would create a dedicated funding source for Mayor Karl Dean's proposed $175 million, 7.1 mile bus rapid transit line along the West End corridor. If all goes according to plan, the price tag would be split between the federal, state and local governments, although none of those are a sure thing yet.
One of Tygard's bills, as first reported by the Nashville Business Journal, would increase Metro's sales and use tax, while another would increase the fee for motor vehicle tags. A separate memorializing resolution asks the Davidson County delegation of state legislators to support legislation at that level to create a dedicated funding source for mass transit.
"I'm not sure I'm in favor of any of these," Tygard tells Pith. "But I am in favor of having the discussion. The cart's been before the horse. We're talking about West End to East Nashville, the good or bad designs, tweaks that need to be made. We're having all this discussion, but we as a community have not had the discussion, how do we pay for it over time? I'm trying to initiate that discussion."
Tygard says council members received the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce's legislative agenda at last week's meeting and that one item in the packet jumped out at him. It included a call to "support the expansion of Nashville's multi-modal transit systems and a dedicated funding source for regional mass transit infrastructure that has a strong business case for success."
He says in Chamber sponsored visits to other cities around the country over the last 25 years — where local legislators can learn about (and hopefully learn from) what other cities have done — one common theme when it came to successful public transit was the need for a dedicated funding source "that isn't subjected to the ups and downs of the economy and the budget cycle."
When he called the Chamber to see what their plan for a dedicated funding source for The Amp was, Tygard says he was told they don't have any ideas. Now he says he's filed this legislation in an attempt to stir up that discussion.
An increase in the sales tax would have to be approved in a countywide referendum. Tygard's ordinance would raise that tax half a percent (from 2.25 percent to 2.75). By state law, half of the sales and use tax must be directed to schools, so his proposal would send a quarter of the increase to schools, with the other quarter percent going to mass transit. His other ordinance would increase the the fee for commercial and personal motor vehicle tags by $20, from $66 to $86 and $55 to $75 respectively. That would raise $9 million annually, which he says would be enough to cover the potential cost and debt service associated with The Amp.
Tygard says he's not betting on council members jumping at these proposals, and that he expects to defer them after some discussion and bring them back up during the budget process. The goal, he says is to start a discussion about the long-term funding of The Amp — if it goes through — and to start considering questions like whether Metro can afford to take on extra debt for the project if the state funding isn't there — "which it's not going to be," he says.
All three bills will appear on first reading at next week's council meeting.
Update (2:38 p.m.): The Amp Coalition sends along this response to Tygard's legislation, from Coalition Chairman Dr. Mike Schatzlein:
“We agree with Councilman Tygard that Nashville must develop a strategy for rapid transit if we are going to continue to be successful as a city. That is exactly what we are doing today, as thousands of Nashvillians participate in the public meetings being hosted by MTA to develop a final design for the proposed Amp. We are deeply involved in our community’s discussion of rapid transit, including long-term funding, and we welcome Councilman Tygard’s participation in that discussion.”
Update (3:08 p.m.): Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson sends this statement in response to Tygard's legislation:
"The Amp does not require a tax increase. Mayor Dean does not support Mr. Tygard’s proposals to raise taxes."