March 6, 2013

Bus funding promise has been violated, advocates say

They pleaded Wednesday with a City Council committee to increase funding for the Area Transportation Authority.

Kansas City bus advocates pleaded Wednesday with a City Council committee to increase funding for the Area Transportation Authority, saying the proposed budget violates a promise to voters.

Loretta Jackson-Cowans, who said the bus is her sole transportation, reminded the Finance and Governance Committee that when voters approved a sales tax increase for the buses in 2003 and 2008, they were told the buses would also get 95 percent of the money from a different transportation sales tax. But that’s not happening.

“We were lied to,” she said. “The KCATA isn’t getting the money they were supposed to get.”

Mark Huffer, general manager of the ATA, said his agency was counting on the higher level of funding. Instead, it has used $4 million to $5 million per year from its reserves to avoid service cuts or fare increases. The agency wants to start enhanced bus service on Prospect Avenue and North Oak Trafficway, he said, but budget instability makes that difficult.

“The continued uncertainty we face every single budget year … makes it nearly impossible for us to plan a long-term strategy,” Huffer told the committee.

But finance committee member Dick Davis, who used to run the ATA, pointed out that the agency still has a healthy reserve of nearly $29 million and is not facing an imminent financial crisis.

City Manager Troy Schulte acknowledged his current budget proposal takes $5 million for roads and $2 million for the downtown streetcar project from transportation taxes — money that otherwise could go to buses. He argued that the downtown streetcar is a legitimate transit expense but acknowledged that both the city and ATA could see expenses grow faster than revenue.

Finance committee chairwoman Jan Marcason said the council won’t adopt a budget until March 28, so it has a few more weeks to consider how to adequately fund buses, streetcar and roads.

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