Members of the Spokane Transit Authority Board of Directors said Wednesday that money raised from a sales tax increase approved in May will not be used to build a light rail system.
Although the board did not vote on light rail funding, the six board members attending an STA meeting Wednesday said that new taxes will be focused on STA’s existing services, not light rail. They also said that if light rail is ever constructed in Spokane, it will require a vote.
“Nothing would happen without a major vote of the people,” said Dick Denenny, an STA board member and Spokane Valley city councilman.
The sales tax increase approved by voters will raise about $18 million a year for five years. Most of that is slated to maintain STA’s current service. But the increase will generate about $4 million more a year than STA needs to pay for its existing operations.
A report commissioned by the Spokane Regional Light Rail Steering Committee, which is studying the prospect of creating rapid transit in Spokane, noted that the $4 million could be used for light rail purposes. That opinion, first discussed publicly at a board meeting earlier this month, elicited an angry response from some who had campaigned for the tax increase.
Six citizens addressed the board, expressing concerns that voters would be angry if money was diverted to light rail. STA officials did not say before the May vote that new tax money might be used to that purpose.
Gloria Lopez, who campaigned for the increase, said the board would put the credibility of those who advocated for the tax on the line if the money was spent on light rail.
“I heard tonight exactly what I needed to hear,” Lopez said after the meeting. “The board members heard our concerns and answered them with honesty and clarity.”
STA spokeswoman Molly Myers said STA is committed to using extra money to improve bus offerings, not create light rail.
“It will be used to enhance the current transit operations,” Myers said. “It’s about building on the strengths of the system.”
While the board said the new tax money would remain focused on bus service, it also voted to continue its support of the rapid transit study that has been under way since 2000. Options studied by the light rail steering committee range from a $61 million bus rapid-transit system to a $657 million dual-track commuter train between downtown Spokane and Liberty Lake.
“Let’s complete the planning,” said Spokane City Councilman Al French, an STA board member, “Let’s complete the due diligence.”