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Rail Plan May Depend on Support for Taxes

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By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

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Dallas, TX – Later this morning North Texas lawmakers and mayors will unveil their legislative plan for expanding commuter rail throughout the region. The challenge is how to pay for it. KERA's Shelley Kofler recently talked to bill sponsor, Senator John Carona, about the options.

The vision is for an ambitious expansion of commuter rail beyond DART in Dallas and the Trinity Railway Express. Planners want a regional system that would connect some 12 counties with more than 215 miles of rail service.

North Texas officials have long known the state and federal governments won't pick up the tab. That's why State Senator John Carona of Dallas will introduce a bill that asks the legislature to give local governments the right to raise their own money. North Texas counties would then ask voter for approval of taxes or fees to pay for regional rail. There is a menu of options.

Carona: Possible increase in motor fuels tax in the region; possible increase in sales tax on automobile purchases; vehicle inspection fee increases. There are a host of possibilities. The most significant thing to remember about this legislation if it should be successful is that any one of those menu items would have to be approved by the local voter before it could be enacted.

Twice before our region asked the legislature for permission to raise the state sales tax in North Texas to pay for rail. Carona says some of North Texas' biggest businesses killed those efforts.

This time an increase in the state sales tax is not expected to be one of the funding options, and Carona's position as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee all but guarantees the bill will get to the floor of the Senate. Representative Vicki Truitt of Keller will sponsor the legislation in the House.

But Carona says that doesn't mean the effort will be easy. He says many lawmakers simply won't approve taxes- even if they don't affect their constituents.

Carona: The challenge is to convince members that it's ok on some issues of significance to be willing to vote for additional fees, for additional taxes.

Send E-mail to Shelley Kofler