Sam Allard / Scene
Ron Jackson, President of ATU Local 268
The crew from Clevelanders for Public Transit, together with representatives from the local service workers and transit workers unions, spoke at RTA HQ Tuesday morning, advocating for greater investment in public transit.
If this sounds like a familiar story, it is. Coming up in August, of course, RTA will raise fares and cut a small number of routes in response to a projected $6 million budget hole at the end of the year.
But that’s not what the rally was about.
Earlier in July, Federal regulators stepped in at the state level and did away with Ohio’s practice of collecting sales taxes on Medicaid managed health care services. That means transit agencies around the state, which are largely funded by sales tax revenue, will take a big hit.
In a memo to RTA staff on July 6, Joe Calabrese lamented the forthcoming change to Ohio tax law, which would reduce sales tax receipts for the RTA by 8.2 percent, or $18 million per year.
(Because the change won't go into effect until July, 2017, next year's shortfall is only projected to be about $4.5 million.)
“It would be a huge hit,” wrote Calabrese, in the memo. “It could result in a significant 10 percent reduction in RTA services, which would impact both our customers and our employees.”
At a meeting Tuesday morning, Calabrese suggested that as many as 200 RTA employees could be cut.
Calabrese noted a silver lining, though: Because the impact would be felt statewide, he was confident that “someone in the State Legislature” would aggressively seek a solution.
Members of Clevelanders for Public Transit weren't quite as confident. They’ve seen the resolve from Ohio’s elected representatives when it comes to funding public transit, and it is limp.
Leonard Thomas, a member of SEIU Local 1, said that projected service cuts and an additional fare increase would "decimate" transit-dependent riders.
"We can't afford this
increase," he said, "let alone the next one."
Ron Jackson, president of ATU Local 268, (the union representing bus operators), said the changes would affect employees just as much as it would affect riders.
"When they're cutting buses, they're cutting employees," he said. "What is good for the operators is also good for the riding public."
Organizer Akshai Singh spoke passionately about the weak response from elected leaders.
"This is not just an ask; this is a demand," Singh said. "And if community quote unquote leaders don't do something, we're going to make them."