Nashville Mayor Seeks May Transit Referendum

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With the support of a majority of Nashville Metropolitan Council members, Mayor Megan Barry, who unveiled a multibillion transit improvement plan in October, filed a long-anticipated ordinance to push forward her ambitious transportation program and present it to voters for approval in a May referendum.

At a press conference announcing the measure, Mayor Barry, surrounded by several of her bill’s co-sponsors, said that “constituents are not content with just Band-Aids and short fixes…. They want a long-term solution that’s going to allow residents to get around the city in a faster, more efficient and effective way.”

The plan, which calls for new, expanded light rail and rapid bus service, requires voter approval because it is to be financed largely by local tax increases, namely higher sales, hotel, rental car, and business taxes.

In addition to providing official Metro County Council approval of the sweeping plan, the recently-introduced legislation lays out the proposed referendum language which Mayor Barry hopes to present to voters in May:

“Passage of this measure will allow the Metropolitan Government to improve and expand its transit services to include: expanded bus service countywide; new transit lines; new light rail and/or rapid bus service along Nashville’s major corridors, including the Northwest Corridor and a connection through downtown Nashville; new neighborhood transit centers; improvements to the Music City Star train service; safety improvements, including sidewalks and pedestrian connections; and system modernization. The Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Department of Public Works will undertake the projects and implement the program. The transit improvements and expansion will be funded by tax surcharges that will end once all debt issued for the program has been paid and the Metropolitan Council determines upon the adoption of a resolution that the revenues from the surcharges are no longer needed for operation of the program. The surcharges will consist of: (1) a sales tax surcharge of 0.5% for the first five years, increasing to 1% in 2023; (2) a hotel/motel tax surcharge of 0.25% for the first five years, increasing to 0.375% in 2023; (3) a 20% surcharge on the business/excise tax; and (4) a 20% surcharge on the rental car tax. The capital cost of the program is estimated to have a present day value of $5,354,000,000, with recurring operations and maintenance costs having a present day value at the year the improvements are completed of approximately $99,500,000.”

The ordinance is set to be considered for the first time at the Metro Council’s December 19th meeting. The mayor and her co-sponsors hope to win final council approval on February 6th.