SORTA Board Approves Bus Levy Ballot Language

Ballot language for the 25-year, .8-percent tax levy specifically spells out that no money would be spent on Cincinnati's streetcar. It also stipulates that 75 percent of the funds raised would be for buses and the other 25 percent for infrastructure.

Dec 9, 2019 at 4:50 pm
click to enlarge Metro buses at Government Square - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Metro buses at Government Square

The board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority today unanimously approved ballot language for a .8-percent sales tax to fund improvements to the region's Metro bus service, clearing the way for voters to weigh in on the sales tax next year.

Three-quarters of the estimated $130 million a year the 25-year the levy would raise would go to bus service, while another quarter would go to infrastructure improvements throughout the region that benefit public transit in some way. According to the ballot language the board approved, none of the money could be used for Cincinnati's streetcar. 

Metro says it wants the money to fund an ambitious plan called Reinventing Metro to expand and improve bus service throughout Greater Cincinnati. The plan promises eight new bus routes to and from employment centers around the county; expanded hours and more frequent service on existing routes throughout the week and on weekends; 24-hour service along six major corridors; new transit centers; smaller circulator buses and crosstown routes; and better service for people with disabilities. 

A nine-member board called the Hamilton County Integrating Committee would approve expenditure of the roughly $30 million collected for infrastructure under the proposed sales tax.

Should voters approve the levy, the .3 portion of the city's earnings tax that pays for buses would be eliminated, per a citywide ballot issue voters okayed by a wide margin last month. That would mean those who work in Cincinnati would pay $50 million less in taxes.

Board members Heidi Black, Thaddeus Hoffmeister and Allen Freeman were absent for today's vote. Black and Hoffmeister sent messages of support for the ballot language. Freeman was the sole vote against the tax levy back in September.

Here is the ballot language the board approved:

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) proposes to levy a sales and use tax in the amount of eight–tenths of one percent for a period of twenty-five years. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds of the levy shall be used for public infrastructure projects, like building or maintaining roads or bridges; and seventy-five percent of the proceeds shall provide general revenues for operating the Metro transportation system. None of the levy money shall be used for the Cincinnati Streetcar. If this tax is approved, the City of Cincinnati earnings tax will be reduced by three-tenths of one percent according to the City’s Charter. 

Shall a sales and use tax be levied at a rate not exceeding eight tenths of one percent for a period of twenty-five years by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) for the purposes of public infrastructure projects, like the construction and maintenance of roads or bridges related to the provision of SORTA’s service, and providing general revenues for the use of SORTA?