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Sales Tax Hikes to Fund Transit

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The City of Columbus wants to raise sales taxes to pay for a new public transit system.
  • Post category:News

The City of Columbus wants to raise their sales tax to pay for a new public transit system. The LinkUs mobility initiative is trying to reinvent the region. They estimate that the population will increase to over three million residents by 2050, and they want to be ready. They argue that if Columbus strikes now, they will be poised to welcome the new residents and help their city expand. They’re not wrong, and it’s a fantastic plan with one glaring problem. They need to raise taxes to make their plan a reality.

The LinkUs system is a huge undertaking that will require the teamwork of multiple municipalities to continue. Currently, the City of Columbus, Franklin County, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission all want to get this plan off the ground. The plans will upgrade and re-evaluate current transit and mobility systems. They also say that the improvements will promote development projects around the transit lines.

By the Numbers

It’s a lofty goal, to say the least. Planners are estimating the LinkUs project will need an $8 billion investment. That money will come from a half-percentage point increase in sales taxes. This would raise the overall sales tax from 7.5% to 8%. COTA currently gets only .5% of sales tax to create projects and maintain transit lines. The new tax would all go to the Transit Authority to raise it to an even 1%. This would bring Columbus’ taxes more in line with Cleveland’s. An argument that Cleveland is a similar municipality whose transit authority gets 1% of its 7.8% sales tax.

Joanna Pinkerton, the CEO of COTA, wants to put the tax increase on this upcoming November’s ballot. That would allow new construction to begin in 2024. The large undertaking would require Franklin County, Delaware, and Licking and Fairfield counties to all vote yes.

If Ohio voters agree to the vote, Pinkerton and the rest of COTA believe that this will help their argument for additional federal funding. Biden’s infrastructure plan has billions of dollars to hand out to states to improve their public transit. If there are already plans in place and publicly funded projects underway, they can negotiate a higher share for additional improvements. It’s a fair plan, but hopefully this isn’t a money grab by Pinkerton and COTA. If the initiative fails, it may hurt their cause to lobby for federal funds.

Will Raising Sales Tax Help Transit?

Whether the bill passes or not, Ohio will still likely win some federal funds to improve its roadways. However, the LinkUs plan is a fantastic way to improve the quality of life for Columbus residents. That being said, the tax increase may not sit well with many voters. Especially when funds will be coming in from the federal government even if they don’t pass the bill. It may not be enough to fund their LinkUs project, but it will be a considerable amount. Only time will tell how Columbus wants to evolve, and the coming November election will reveal those answers.

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