I say it again: City doing what it has to do on buses

As we saw yesterday:

Columbia residents — homeowners and renters, churches and nonprofits, businesses and schools — will pay for the area’s struggling bus system through an increase on their power bills

City Council approved the increase Tuesday night with a 5-2 vote after a contentious, two-hour public hearing that included a retired Detroit cop calling council members “enlightened despots” and a retired federal prosecutor asking council members to slap him if he got too excited “because I promised my wife I would behave up here.”

The city charges SCE&G a 3 percent franchise fee for the right to run power lines in the public right of way. SCE&G passes that fee along to its customers. Tuesday night, City Council members increased the fee to 5 percent. The amount of the fee varies by customer, depending on the size of a customer’s bill. A charge of $100, for example, would be assessed a $5 franchise fee.

Hey, at least the ex-cop called them “enlightened,” huh? She thinks the city’s leaders don’t get it, saying, “Voters told you ‘no’ to a tax hike. You lost.” What she doesn’t get is that the city has a responsibility to provide this service, and if one way of paying for it doesn’t pan out, the council has to find another way. Besides, as Tameika Devine explained, voters in the city voted for the referendum.

Anyway, as I said before, the slight majority of Richland County voters who turned down a perfectly workable, practical way of paying for the service left city council with little choice. No, I take that back: The city could have chosen to be irresponsible, and let county council continue to carry the burden with its unpopular vehicle tax. But that would not have been a long-term solution. And by “long-term,” I mean a solution that lasts until the referendum is placed on the ballot again, and passes.

20 thoughts on “I say it again: City doing what it has to do on buses

  1. Edward Bender

    Brad –

    I’m not sure I agree with you that the City “had” to fund the bus system. It has been obvious through the Council’s public posturing though that it was going to fund buses so no need to argue about that. My question to you is why did the City have to raise taxes (whether by sales tax or franchise fee) to pay for buses? You praise the City Council for taking the easy way out by taxing its constituents. It would have been refreshing although unrealistic to think that our elected officials would look at the City budget and make tough decisions on cutting a nonessential program to fund an “essential” program like the bus system. Why was that never an option? Why was that never discussed? I find it hard to believe that somewhere in the City’s budget there is a program or service that residents could forgo in order to fund the bus system. Sadly, though, our City Council simply chose to impose a tax on the citizenry instead of making the more difficult, yet fiscally responsible decision to cut the budget. Finally, and with all due respect to you and Councilwoman Devine, City residents did not vote for this tax increase in the fall. A majority of the residents may have voted for a penny sales tax increase, with a majority of funds going to services besides buses, but they did not vote for this franchise fee. It is intellectually dishonest to rationalize Tuesday’s vote as something supported by the City residents last fall. As long as our City leaders continue to use these oppressive and uncreative measures to “fix” our myriad problems, Columbia will continue to struggle. .

    Edward Bender

  2. Steven Davis

    The problem is if the city is responsible, why are they forcing it’s citizens pay it through their SCE&G power bill? Wouldn’t the water bill be more appropriate? Or any bill that goes back to the City of Columbia instead of laundered through SCE&G.

    That’s like requiring me to make my mortgage payment through my Kohl’s card. What does my power bill have to do with the bus system? Nothing.

    Why is the city in the bus business anyway? Would city government implode if the bus system went away?

  3. Steven Davis

    How do Lexington and West Columbia get by without a metro bus system? Maybe Columbia could learn a thing or two from the west side of the river.

    East Side – Absolutely Necessary
    West Side – Non-existant

  4. Karen McLeod

    Do people not realize that without a bus system the human infrastructure of our hospitals (eg. nurse’s aides, janitorial workers, food service workers)would collapse; without a bus system many of our disabled would be unable to leave their immediate neighborhoods; without a bus system many of the working poor of this city would cease to be working, and simply be that much poorer?

  5. Doug Ross


    Don’t confuse “what we need” with “how do we pay for it”.

    Mr. Bender has the correct response: What was done to assess non-essential services before going the route of raising taxes?

    Mayor Benjamin and the council should have taken a look at the entire city budget and prioritized services first. If there is money going to arts, etc. it should be eliminated and applied to the bus service.

  6. Steven Davis

    @Karen – How do the employees of Lexington Medical get to work? Do the disabled in Lexington County get out of their immediate neighborhoods? Are the working poor of Lexington County all unemployed because of no bus system?

  7. Mark Stewart


    What’s wrong with art, and the public support of it? You travel around the country; you know which cities support art and which don’t the moment you arrive in one. Art adds to the environment and makes a city livible.

    Ever hear of 1% for art? A “tax” on construction spending to humanize the built environment. I threw in the “tax” comment to get you torqued; it would not really be a tax as the money is spent by the property owner on art projects on or immediately adjacent to the owner’s own property.

    It would be a great think of the possibilities for the image and feel of the area if government used it’s powers to encourage commercial (and governmental and institutional) entities to incorporate art into their properties.

    As to the buses: Maybe the Columbia City Council – and Richland County and Lexington County Councils – should stop providing water and sewer services as a way to cut costs/taxes. I mean, everyone can have their own well and cesspit, right? Who needs infrastructure? Okay, now I’m just kidding.

  8. Mark Stewart

    Edward and Steven,

    Really? A city is not a city without a transit system. The definition of a city is a place where people come together to create a more vigorous and growth-oriented environment (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, if you will). That costs – but it also provides benefits. Enabling the citizenry, all of them, to get around and contribute to society is the hallmark of a growing, vital place with a future ahead of it.

    And yes, Lexington County continues to shoot itself in the foot through its continued resistance to the idea that it is now densifying and becoming a key component to an overall metropolitan area known as “Columbia”. That evolution comes with lots of benefits – and a few critical responsibilities.

  9. Karen McLeod

    Steven, I wouldn’t know. I do know that I choose to live on a side of the river that has a wider range of choices for citizenry. I should imagine that the poor and disabled in Lex. Co. are stuck in various ones of those many trailers.

  10. Doug Ross


    By “public support for art” you mean everyone pays regardless of interest in the art, right? The public is free to support art to whatever degree the public feels it is worth. It hasn’t made Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen, or even Justin Bieber seek government relief yet. The problem with government funded art is that it typically reflects more on well-connected insiders views of what art should be than what the general public desires.

    Why is it so difficult to make choices? Why is the first option “raise taxes”?

  11. Steven Davis

    Mark – Would the city of Columbia crumble if the bus system stopped running tomorrow?

    I happen to live in Lexington, and don’t know anyone who is stuck in their neighborhood simply because they don’t have a bus stop nearby.

    As far as the bus system, I’ve noticed Columbia’s buses near empty and the trolleys when running always empty. For the cost of running this system, it’d be less expensive to hand out taxi vouchers to the users.

  12. Tom Fillinger

    Where is the end of subsidized insanity? If a business or industry cannot operate within the revenue generated by their product or services, they should simply not exist. Whining aside, that is reality. The buses run around clogging traffic, mostly empty and draining more tax dollars from the voters.

    This is more than an econimic/tax issue. Do we simply over-ride every vote of a free and fair election that some petty ignorant council decides they don’t agree with? Elections should have consequences that reflect the outcomes of those elections.

    Those who disagree with these sentiments need to think carefully about the precedent this establishes.

  13. Steven Davis

    Mark – water and sewer are revenue generating, the bus system is not. In a time of tight budgets, what do you cut first?

  14. Edward Bender

    Mark –

    I never said Columbia could/should go without a transit system. I’m just not sure they City or County should fund the system. Columbia would be a much better place to live with a well run, active mass transit system. Sadly, though the City and County seem to hold Columbia back from the development of truly functional transit system.

    The less City and County Councils are involved in the better off we are as residents.

  15. Mark Stewart

    Without a bus system, the City of Columbia would need to change it’s name to the Town of Columbia.

    Seriously folks, do you not all realize that there are tens of thousands of people in this metro area who do not have their own vehicular transportation? They may be out-of-sight out-of-mind, but they are a factor in this region’s social life and economy. They must be accounted for, one way or the other.

    These people are your neighbors – members of this community. They deserve to be able to actively play their role in our region’s life and not simply remain alienated and immobile.

  16. Mark Stewart


    No, I mean that the fabric of our society should be supportive of the arts as a pillar of civilization. I’m not at all saying the some arts programs should be more than minimally paid for with tax dollars. However, there should be a little of that, yes.

    What I said is that it would be highly beneficial if the municipalities’ would decide that encouraging commercial and institutional users (and gov’t.) to sponsor art as a componant of their construction / renovation plans would be something that ought to be considered. That’s hardly a tax – though some may consider it a burden.

  17. Herb B

    We are killing ourselves by putting more vehicles on the road, upping asthma cases through carbon emissions, and building better roads so we can fill them with more cars. We drive everywhere because it is cheap to do so–there are three people on my street who walk two blocks to Walmart, and my wife and I are two of them.

    Setting up a mass transit infrastructure even in Lexington seems like a no-brainer.

    And to force us to use it, we need government protection–by doubling or tripling the tax on gasoline, forcing us to alternative energy sources and mass transit, and stopping the funding of extremist ideologies from countries like Saudia Arabia.


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