Klobuchar: Nashville voters opposed funding transit alone

Friday, April 12, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 15

NASHVILLE (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar weighed in on Nashville's 2018 transit referendum Wednesday, saying it failed partly because voters weren't sure they wanted to fund the initiative locally, without the federal government pitching in.

The U.S. senator from Minnesota gave her take while touting her infrastructure plan at Fisk University with local officials, trade group representatives and others.

"Part of that, I think you know, is not because the public likes to sit in traffic jams. It's not like they want to have bridges that fall down in the middle of their state," Klobuchar said of the Nashville vote against the transit referendum. "It is because they are not sure that they want to be just funding it locally. And I think part of that is just feeling left behind by the federal government, in terms of what their priorities are."

Instead, Klobuchar suggested a local transit plan contingent on federal money coming through.

Klobuchar says her infrastructure plan would provide $1 trillion to fix roads and bridges, protect against flooding, rebuild schools, and other initiatives. She wants to leverage $650 billion in federal funding through public-private partnerships, bond programs and clean-energy tax incentives.

Of that, $400 billion would come from increasing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, after President Donald Trump's 2017 tax law lowered it from 35 percent to 21 percent.

In May, Nashville voters widely rejected a plan to pay for a $5.4 billion mass transit system that would have included a new light rail system, expanded bus routes and the building of a downtown underground tunnel.

A combination of liberals, conservatives and outside interests helped killed the effort. Every African-American candidate running for mayor at the time had come out against the proposal.

The plan would have increased taxes to build a 26-mile (42-kilometer) light rail system on five major corridors, and to upgrade to the city bus system and the tunnel. A sales tax increase, along with a hike in hotel, business and rental car taxes would have paid for the system. Capital costs of the project were projected at $5.4 billion, but the total cost was about $9 billion with added debt and maintenance costs.

Out of the growing Democratic field seeking the presidency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts held a Tennessee campaign rally in Memphis last month. Independent candidate Howard Schultz also was in the state last month for a nonpartisan group's conference in Nashville.

The red state was a favorite stop last year for Trump, who intervened on behalf of Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn in her contested race for an open seat.