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Issue 22 Passes Overwhelmingly, Setting Stage For Possible Metro Revitalization

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati voters took a major step toward a possible revitalization of the Metro bus system Tuesday when they voted overwhelmingly to eliminate city funding for transit. It may well lead to a new county-wide sales tax that backers say will save the system from chronic financial problems and expand the service.

With 34% of the city's 190 precincts reporting, Issue 22 – the repeal of an 0.3% city earnings tax that has had city residents pay for the bus system for 47 years – was being overwhelmingly approved by voters 70% to 30%.

It was the first step toward what city and county officials hope will be a transfer of the funding to a countywide sales tax.

SORTA (The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority) is facing a major deficit and would do much better with a 0.8% hike in the county sales tax than with the present city earnings tax revenue.

As of now, the sales tax increase is expected to be on the March primary ballot – but SORTA needed to repeal the 0.3% city earnings tax first.

But that plan has become complicated by the Hamilton County Republican Party, which is conducting a petition initiative to repeal a 0.25% sales tax increase recently approved by the three Democratic county commissioners. The GOP – which is also backing the sales tax for SORTA – has until Nov. 14 to turn in the valid signatures of nearly 34,000 county voters to place the repeal issue on the March ballot.

SORTA leaders may decide to wait until November rather than compete with another sales tax issue on the March ballot. But they have succeeded in getting the city earnings tax off the books, which is step one in the process of transforming the Queen City Metro bus system.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.