Midlands transit official opposes transportation tax

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Business and civic leaders supporting an extra penny sales tax for Richland County transportation are taking their case to the public on Thursday. The group will roll out the reasons for their campaign. But one of the top officers on the board who runs the Midlands bus system is against the tax hike, even if that money helps public transit.

Tommy Windsor has been on the Midlands Transit Authority Board for years, taking part in sometimes intense debates over the future of the Columbia area bus system. Windsor says keeping the buses up and running is absolutely critical for workers and businesses, but he will not support a penny sales tax increase that could save that system.

"I can defend our portion of the sales tax," said Windsor. "I'm a firm believer in public transit and we need to fund it. But I can't say that about the other two thirds of the sales tax. I think it's bad public policy."

Windsor's take on the tax lines up with the position of Citizens Against the Tax Increase. "Our contention is first of all it's not one cent, it's a 14 percent sales tax increase," said group spokesman Michael Letts.

Citizens Against the Tax Increase and Windsor both say it's vital for workers and the Midlands economy to keep CMRTA buses in operation. They're skeptical about using two thirds of the billion dollars generated by the tax hike to fund road improvements and other projects.

Windsor says the project list used to include changes where railroad tracks cross Assembly Street, but no longer does. But tax opponents say that list now calls for roadway alterations in Columbia's Innovista development and near Riverbanks Zoo.

"The list has changed two or three times. Projects have been added. Projects have been deleted," said Windsor. "And if I can't speak with any degree of certainty as to how Richland County is going to spend their two thirds of the penny, I know the taxpayers don't know how they're going to spend it."

Supporters of the penny tax say critics can't have it both ways. They can't say the Midlands has to save the buses, and then work against the best funding option for doing just that. The pro-penny people also say their road improvement plan is well-defined, and the projects it covers have to be addressed soon.

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