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Another Great Day for Smart Growth

Nationally, voters support transit, land preservation

November 22, 2006 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The strong approval Michigan voters gave on Nov. 7, 2006 to many ballot referendums raising property taxes to pay for public transit and land conservation reflect a strong national trend. But so did its vote limiting eminent domain—reflecting voters caution about just how far government should inject itself into the marketplace.

Nationally, one of the most significant transit votes—besides the huge California bond issues mentioned on page one of this article—occurred in Kansas City, Mo. There 54 percent of voters approved activist Clay Chastain’s nearly decade-long crusade for a three-eighths of a cent sales tax to help finance a regional rapid transit system. The new tax will help pay for a 27-mile light rail line, electric shuttle buses, and a cable-gondola system. Voters backed Mr. Chastain’s proposal even though much of Kansas City's political and civic leadership opposed the idea.

Two additional consequential transit decisions occurred in the Salt Lake City region. Voters in two Utah counties approved sales tax increases to accelerate construction of a new light rail line between their communities and the city, where a regional system is under construction. Even voters in Grapevine, Tex., approved a half-cent sales tax to fund commuter rail service connecting the city to Fort Worth. The sales tax will generate an estimated $9 million annually for the $390 million project, which will connect riders to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and the DART light rail line to Dallas.

A number of other notable open space and farmland conservation measures won strong voter approval, according to the Trust for Public Land. Those included:

  • $10 million bonds in both Ravalli and Missoula Counties in Montana, for open space and farmland conservation.
  • $260 million for open space in Florida, with the approval of three out of four county conservation measures on the ballot.
  • $48 million for open space, trails, and parks in Salt Lake County, Utah.
  • $685 million for conservation in Texas, where all six measures on county and municipal ballots were approved.
  • $40 million bond authorization in Cobb County, Georgia, for acquisition of parks and open space.

"It's a nonpartisan issue," Republican Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens told the Trust. "For years, I would go to Cobb Republican Party breakfasts where conservative Republicans were telling me, 'Look, you gotta get this park space before it doesn't exist any more, before the potential doesn't exist any more."

Voters in California, Washinton state, and Idaho turned down ballot measures that would have required governments to compensate land owners if regulations diminshed the value of their property. Only Arizona approved the so-called "regulatory takings" initiative. 

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