Meet the new rail debate, same as the old rail debate

I feel like I’ve heard all this before.

Opponents of the planned downtown streetcar system said Tuesday that county officials broke a promise with voters when they agreed to use advanced transportation district funds to help fund the project.

The group contends that multiple pieces of campaign literature used to promote the ATD tax in 2004 explicitly stated the money would not go toward light rail or toll roads.

A streetcar, they said, is light rail by another name.

“I think the average person would say this is light rail,” said Jeff Judson, an Olmos Park city councilman, senior fellow with the Heartland Institute and former president of the Texas Public Policy Network, a conservative think tank that played a large role in the defeat of a 2000 tax increase that would have funded a 53-mile light rail system here.


A 2004 VIA campaign brochure, labeled “Keep San Antonio in Motion!” explained why voters should approve a ¼-cent sales tax increase to fund creation of the ATD, which would pay for transportation projects for VIA, the city and the Texas Department of Transportation.

It also included a note, in bold, italic type that “these funds would not be used for light rail or for projects on toll roads.”

The actual ballot included no reference to light rail or anything that would preclude the money from being applied to rail.

Michael Dennis, a retired lawyer working with the anti-streetcar coalition, said the brochure qualifies as part of a “contract with the voters” doctrine, which includes whatever voters think they are approving even if it wasn’t on the ballot itself.

“That is a binding contract that can be enforced,” Dennis said.

So an anti-rail group is claiming that a referendum didn’t say what it said but did say what they say it said. Yep, I was right, I have heard this before. That means the next step will be to demand a re-vote, and another re-vote after that if the result is unfavorable. My advice to Nelson Wolff and the folks at VIA is to stock up on the ibuprofin. You’re going to need it.

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3 Responses to Meet the new rail debate, same as the old rail debate

  1. Ross says:

    If an agency pushing a vote on something puts out brochures saying that the money won’t be used for a specific purpose, then I wouldn’t have any problem holding them to that, regardless of what the ballot said (assuming the ballot didn’t say, he we lied, this will be used for rail). It’s time the ballots in Texas specify just what we are voting on. Let’s get rid of the weasel words now.

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  3. Irma Sleighter says:

    Streetcars seem to be the least necessary expense for our city. I read California has a high level of streetcar injury law suits. Are we prepared for that? We just had two incidents; the malfunction of the convention center escalator and then the malfunction of the elevator at Tower of Americas. We should re-direct funds to fix/update existing areas utilized by visitors and citizens.

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