RTP employers say they are willing to tax themselves up to $3 million a year to help build a new three-county transit system that would be funded mostly from a local sales tax hike.
The House Transportation Committee, which is scheduled Wednesday to consider transit legislation, will air two amendments aimed at blunting opposition from critics who say the sales tax would unfairly burden low-income residents.
The bill gives Triangle counties the option, if approved by voters in a referendum, to raise the local sales tax by one-half percent to help pay for a proposed plan with 300 new buses and more than 50 miles of light-rail tracks.
The proposed amendments would strengthen local efforts to provide affordable housing near rail stops and bus hubs, and give a special RTP tax district the option to levy up to 10 cents per $100 property valuation in the park, worth about $3 million a year, to support the transit project.
A majority of RTP's Owners and Tenants Association, approached by Triangle legislators, agreed in principle to the transit tax hike. The proposed amendment would authorize the RTP tax but would not require it.
"I think it's great," said Durham Mayor Bill Bell. "This puts the force of the business community behind it -- particularly RTP, and they are pretty much the focus of this regional rail system in terms of where people want to go. It's more than lip service -- they're putting their dollars behind it."
Bell and some other officials in Orange and Durham counties favor another amendment that he said would strengthen efforts to create a three-county transit system.
Their proposal would make state matching funds available for Triangle counties only after all three counties -- Wake, Durham and Orange -- impose the proposed transit sales tax. That would make it harder for just one or two counties to proceed separately.
"Does the state want to fund a regional system or does it want to fund a piecemeal system?" Bell said today. "I don't want to build a line to nowhere, and that's what we're going to get if we don't have all three counties buying into it."
It wasn't clear today whether any legislators were ready to introduce the proposed amendment.