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Here’s a glimpse of life in Detroit, far from us in North Carolina, but where the circumstances may ring familiar for thousands also trying to figure out how to get to work without much reliable transportation around.

James Robertson, a machine operator from Detroit, works 23 miles from his home, in a metropolitan area where public transportation is spotty.

His solution has been to walk – a combined 21 miles a day – in order to get to and from work every day. He’s been doing the four to six-hour commute, which also includes taking two buses, since his car broke down a decade ago.

 

 

Detroit also leads the nation in auto insurance rates, with the average driver shelling out $5,941 a year for auto insurance, compared to the average $1,022 bill that North Carolinians pay.

Amazingly and incredibly, Robertson has never missed a day of work because of his commuting challenges.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Durham’s Joint City-County planning Committee spent last Wednesday morning hearing from city experts on the state of affordable housing near planned transit stations. As efforts to enhance mobility move forward, Durham officials want to be prepared for not only the benefits that new transit investments bring but the challenges as well. As such, they have invested resources and staff time in assessing the stock of affordable housing, options to maintain existing affordable housing, as well as policy tools and potential sites available for expanding affordable housing.

Housing is considered affordable if housing-related costs such as rent and utilities are no more than 30 percent of a household’s income.

Research shows that a majority of neighborhoods where new transit stations are built experience higher housing costs, undergo gentrification, and attract higher-income residents who are less likely to use public transit. With these troubling findings in mind, Durham CAN and other community activists organized a successful policy campaign over several years to urge local elected officials to plan for this reality. In response, Durham elected officials set a goal that at least 15 percent of housing within a half mile of each transit station be affordable to residents at or below 60 percent of the median area income. That is an annual earnings of roughly $37,350 for a family of three, which is a very modest income considering that $51,729 is needed to earn a living wage for that family size in Durham County. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Plans to finance both public education and transit at the local level would be stopped in their tracks under HB 1224 that passed the state Senate Finance Committee yesterday. The bill not only places a hard cap on the local sales tax rate at 2.5 percent but also only allows counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit—not both.  This bill joins a slate of other bills that would restrict local control. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night.

In effect, the bill restricts local governments’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets. Importantly, the bill is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards local governments. The state clearly cannot afford last year’s tax plan and now legislators are proposing budgets that would make serious cuts to public education as a result. Those cuts would have to be absorbed by children in the classroom or addressed at the local level, putting local governments in a tough spot having to choose whether or not to make up the difference via a local tax.

Local governments are dealing with the fallout from last year’s tax plan in other ways too. They no longer have access to the school Capital Building Fund, which received a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax. Schools used this fund to help them meet their education obligations, as my colleague explained last month. The result is a $382 million dent over the next five years. This loss is on top of the looming $63 million-annual dent resulting from elimination of the local privilege tax in 2015. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Local employers across the US have a demonstrated track record of supporting existing and new transit investments, according to a new report from Good Jobs First. In fact, local businesses’ support for transit extends beyond merely offering their employees monthly transit fare cards and commuter van pools. The report finds that many local businesses, unlike their national counterparts, take on a leadership role in pro-transit campaigns.

North Carolinians shouldn’t find the business community’s involvement in pro-transit campaigns to be all that surprising. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Durham and Orange county residents are one step closer to accessing more affordable-transportation options. Each of the counties’ Board of Commissioners recently selected April 1, 2013 as the date to begin collecting the half-cent sales tax to support public transit investments. Expanded bus services and new commuter and light rail have the potential of expanding the reach of opportunity by connecting North Carolinians who are poor to the education, employment, and social networks that can help them improve their financial standing.

However, public transit is only helpful to riders if it connects where they live to where the opportunities are available, according to a new report released yesterday by the NC Budget and Tax Center. The success of transit, in turn, rests on increasing access for who regularly use and depend on it: low-income North Carolinians. The report found that more than two-thirds of the state’s workers using transit earn less than $25,000 per year, and a growing share of low-income workers are relying on public transit. The report also found that housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable in the urban cores, where public transit is primarily located and jobs are more plentiful. Read More