According to the Birmingham News, three Republican members of the Jefferson County Commission are all fired up after their trip to Denver, and they think the greater Birmingham area needs a regional transit system. To that I can only reply, “Welcome to the late 20th century!” The greater Birmingham area has needed a regional transit system for at least a couple of decades to address the incredible housing boom that started in Shelby County and spread around the outer perimeter of the “old” Birmingham area. Before that, it could have used a good local bus service. And still could.
Somehow, neither of those things developed. Well, actually, a combination of our current constitution’s concentration of power in the legislature and the balkanization of the Birmingham area pretty much doomed any real progress. Regional leaders have planned and pleaded, but our legislative delegation and myriad local governments just couldn’t ever get their collective act together, repeatedly leaving millions in 80/20 federal matching funds on the table.
Now a group from Alabama has visited Denver and seen, I imagine, actual white people, who might even be Republicans, using public transportation. Twenty years too late, County Commissioners Bettye Fine Collins, (former legislator) Bobby Humphryes, and (former legislator) Jim Carns have seen the light. Woohoo!
In Denver, voters approved a $4.7 billion light rail and commuter rail project, as well as other initiatives to build ballparks and science and cultural amenities.
The projects are financed mostly by a 0.4 cent increase in the region’s sales tax – 4 cents on every $10. That increase generates $160 million a year for Denver’s Regional Transportation District.
Denver’s transportation district serves an eight-county metro area that includes 31 cities and more than 2 million people. In addition to light rail, the district operates more than 1,000 buses. In Birmingham, the Metro Area Express bus system has 75 fixed-route buses.
Not to worry, though. They, and of course my own Rep. Greg Canfield, were backpedaling even as they were looking forward. They’re insisting that any tax increase to fund construction and maintenance of a transit system would have to go to a vote of the people, and they know it has little likelihood of approval. If a statewide vote is required, and it easily could be (see the aforementioned Constitution), the proposal won’t stand a chance. Those who live elsewhere in the state have been taught to resent Birmingham, and they’ll be encouraged to vote “no” in order to deny this area what will be painted as special treatment. Even if the vote is restricted to the region affected, which would certainly make more sense, I have little hope it would pass.
Carns said residents and legislators must be convinced of the benefits of a transit system because the “no new taxes” sentiment is hard to overcome in Alabama….
…State Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, who also made the trip, said he’s not prepared to consider new taxes until regional leaders create a list of priorities and a working agreement.
“The only way I would support any kind of tax is if the region came together with a shared vision, and, two, it must be approved by a vote of the people,” he said. “The citizens deserve the right to make the final determination. In our region, new taxes is not something that will be easily adopted.”
Gee, I wonder why. Alabama citizens have been demagogued for years with the idea that we can get the government services we want without having to pay for them. We’ve been told over and over that government doesn’t work — by people who want to be elected to serve in government. We’ve been encouraged to adopt an “I’ve got mine; screw you” attitude when it comes to schools, health care, the environment, and — yes — public transportation. We’ve been persuaded that public transit is something only poor people use, and god forbid they have access to our lily white suburbs. Well, unless they happen to clean our houses. We have our cars, we can still afford to fill the tanks, and while we may bemoan our poor air quality and the terrible traffic and the nearly $3 a gallon gas, we can’t be bothered to do much about it. Please note I’m using “we” here because I include myself and my family in the group that’s way overdue for a wakeup call.
By the time all the different entities involved approve a proposal, those who are opposed to transit will have had plenty of time to derail it — no pun intended. Unless we see real leadership and advocacy from our elected leaders — leaders who are willing to take on the anti-tax fanatics, the closet racists, and the obstructionists on all sides (they certainly aren’t limited to white over the mountain residents) and turn their arguments back on them — ordinary citizens will fall for the same old song and dance, and we’ll see just what Jim Carns fears:
“We have got to move forward, because if we don’t we’re going to have Jackson, Mississippi; Chattanooga, Tennessee – other cities and communities that have always been at the next level below us – catch up and pass us,” he said. “We have to have some people step forward for the overall good of the community.
The overall good of the community. Do we even remember that concept? As cynical as I sound above, I still hope we do.