Cincinnati voters will take the first vote on changing the way transit is funded in Hamilton County on Nov. 5. But Issue 22 is not the sales tax increase proposed by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). It's only step one of a two-step process.
The first vote will allow city residents to decide if they want to drop the 0.3% earning tax that's dedicated to transit if Hamilton County voters approve the SORTA sales tax request in March or November 2020.
If city and county voters ultimately approve both ballot measures, Cincinnati's 2.1% income tax would be reduced to 1.8%.
City residents have been paying the 0.3% for transit since 1972. At the time, the tax was meant to be temporary until Hamilton County voters approved a sales tax to fund SORTA. A countywide sales tax increase to fund SORTA in 1979 and 1980 was defeated by voters. Voters also rejected a property tax levy for SORTA in 1971.
The SORTA levy on the ballot next year has the support of Cincinnati and Hamilton County political leaders, all three political parties, the Chamber of Commerce and grassroots transit advocates. It would fund improvement to the Cincinnati Metro system and pay for infrastructure work on roads and bridges used for transit.
SORTA is facing a major deficit without a new source of revenue, and a sales tax would collect more money than is currently coming in from the city's 0.3% earnings tax. A sales tax would also be collected in all of Hamilton County instead of only from people working and living in the city.
Right now, the SORTA levy is supposed to be on the March ballot. But that could change because a group of residents is collecting petition signatures to place a 0.25% sales tax increase recently approved by the Hamilton County commissioners on the March ballot, too. That tax is meant to shore up the county's general fund budget.
SORTA leadership may decide that it doesn't want to compete with another sales tax issue on the same ballot.
Organizers of the sales tax referendum effort have until Nov. 14 to turn in nearly 34,000 valid signatures to place the issue on the March ballot.