Weather Alert

Mayor says 1/8-cent sales tax push for VIA is off the table

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – In his State of the City address Tuesday night, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said “COVID-19 has moved the ground beneath our feet”   Apparently, it has also moved the wheels out from under VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Calling it a painful decision, Nirenberg said new investment in our transit system must wait.

“So in November, we will not be asking voters to redirect the one-eighth cent sales tax that
becomes available next year to the transportation system outlined in the ConnectSA process. We
will champion new efforts in our transit agency to assess and fund the priorities of delivering
effective, essential service where it is needed the most,” said the mayor.

He said the  top priorities must be managing the crisis, preventing both an economic and health
catastrophe, and providing opportunity for all San Antonians.

 

You can read the entire State of the City Address below: 

Good evening.
Thank you for joining us. I know it is unusual for a mayor to make a prime time address, but
these are extraordinary times.
We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And for the past week, our nation has been in
turmoil over the murder of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police, spawning
legitimate marches for justice – and unfortunate violence by opportunists.
Even in the best-case scenario, these last few months have put you and your loved ones on edge.
The disruptive events downtown Saturday night, instigated by a few, and separate from the
peaceful protests for justice and reform, didn’t help.
But throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the world once again has seen the very best of humanity
through the people of our city.
We can all be proud of that. Thank you to our local heroes:
Like 10-year-old Alejandra, who has spent the last three months of her free time making
facemasks and selling them to benefit other families at her school.
Paul, a COVID survivor who has gone on a personal crusade to save lives through plasma
donation.
And the doctors, nurses, grocery workers, farm workers and firefighters who are working on the
frontlines of the pandemic day after day. To the thousands of you who are following the guidance of the medical professionals by physical
distancing, staying home when possible, and wearing masks.
A study by the Big Cities Health Coalition and Drexel University has shown you have
collectively saved more than 9,000 lives in our community. Thank you for doing your part.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge unlike any we have ever seen in our lifetimes.
As a result, too many Americans — too many San Antonians — have seen their health
threatened by disease, desperation, or both.
2
And while we have successfully navigated — with agility — more than four months of traumatic
developments that swept across the globe and through our neighborhoods, there is still much to
be done.
By acting early and decisively, and with compassion for each other, we thwarted an unbridled
spread of the coronavirus and even deadlier consequences.
A reminder: the coronavirus hit our radar on Feb. 7 when the first of three evacuee missions
arrived at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland. The base housed hundreds of American travelers
who had been exposed to the virus.
Those missions were a blessing in disguise, as they allowed us to coordinate our response early.
The first case of COVID-19 contracted in San Antonio was reported on March 13 — the same
day Fiesta was postponed.
Ten days later, County Judge Nelson Wolff and I issued “Stay Home, Work Safe” orders.
Working in close collaboration, the county and the city each crafted seven emergency orders.
And I’ve worked closely with my City Council colleagues to extend the orders to effectively
cover the duration of COVID-19’s peak in our community.
To date, nearly 3,000 San Antonio residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 75 have
tragically died from COVID-related causes.
The best way to honor their memories is to remember that COVID-19 is an invisible enemy, and
to take the proper care to ensure that we, and those around us, do not get infected.
By staying home, practicing physical distancing, and wearing masks when close to those who
don’t live in our households … we slowed the spread of the virus and increased medical
capacity.
We are prepared for a second wave.
Our community has flattened the curve and avoided the nightmare of an overwhelmed health
care system by working together and protecting each other.
We have been guided along the way by our incredible health care professionals.
Our Metropolitan Health District has served our community around the clock without hesitation,
and local health professionals rose to the challenge on our Health Transition Team to provide
guidance as we move toward a healthier San Antonio. From the directors to epidemiologists,
doctors to nurses, contract workers to contact tracers — our city is in your debt.
3
The courageous men and women of the San Antonio Fire Department have done stellar work on
the frontlines transporting COVID patients and conducting tests in every corner of our city.
And the steady leadership of our city management has ensured the entire operation continued
seamlessly.
While we have done remarkably well, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a damaging toll on
our economy, just as it has done around the globe.
Slowing the spread required slowing economic activity. The loss in tourism business has led to
losses in leisure and hospitality, and fewer people are able to spend money at other local
businesses. The damage ripples onward.
We are now in the early phase of reopening our businesses and reigniting our economy. This
must be done carefully.
Consumer confidence will be necessary for our businesses to flourish again.
We must be certain we are proceeding safely to build that confidence. Our health professionals
will continue to guide our steps, preventing another retreat that moving blindly could bring.
As we reopen, we also must act to prevent the damage caused by COVID-19 from further
eroding our economy.
I want to thank the leaders from all over our city that stepped up on our Economic Transition
Team to provide the necessary guidance to safely reopen San Antonio businesses.
We truly are “all in this together,” and we will continue to face an unprecedented test as a city
and community.
COVID-19 has moved the ground beneath our feet. It is changing our landscape, shifting our
immediate needs, and further exposing long-term problems that have, too often, plagued us.
While I am proud of our community’s response, this is a long and difficult journey. And we are
only at the beginning.
The fundamental question we have all had to grapple with is: how do we ensure our community
is healthy? Beyond preserving life and safety, how do we ensure that every family in San
Antonio can come out of this ahead of where they were then they started?
Our economic situation as a city – and as individuals – has suffered major blows that must be
addressed. Unemployment is soaring. And thousands of our neighbors are unable to pay the rent,
pay down their mortgage, or even put food on the table.
We are seeing these issues across the country, and they’re impossible to ignore in San Antonio,
because as a community we are so close-knit.
4
So as we survey COVID-19’s damage, we can’t turn away from the inequities in the economic
and social structure of our city.
COVID-19 has been an unwelcomed stress test — exposing buried fault lines in our community
and massive disparities in educational attainment, life expectancy, access to the Internet, and
economic opportunity. These problems need to be taken head on, now, if we are to emerge from
this crisis as a stronger city.
In the wake of any crisis, we are forced to take a full accounting of our community to understand
its core problems and reassess our priorities. What has been made clear in the last few months is
that, just as underlying health conditions make the coronavirus more deadly, preexisting poverty
and inequities have made the economic challenge more catastrophic.
We are justifiably horrified that the number of people seeking help from the San Antonio Food
Bank doubled to 120,000 a week as a result of COVID-19.
But in our zeal to return to normalcy, we cannot forget that the San Antonio Food Bank was
already feeding 60,000 people a week before the pandemic. This is unacceptable. As we rebuild our city’s foundation, we must ensure that every family has the ability to eat. That
every child born in San Antonio will not go hungry. And that they have the opportunity to thrive.
The COVID crisis has shown us that San Antonio’s neighborhood boundaries often serve as
barriers to that opportunity. The ZIP codes that lack adequate internet access are the same ZIP
codes that lack access to basic health care.
Where you live should not determine your access to basic resources, basic opportunities, or basic
support from your city.
Because if the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that we are all connected. What happens
to each person in our community has a direct effect on you, just as what happens to you has a
direct effect on all of us. So yes, the fault lines have been exposed, but it is our collective duty to
rebuild, together.
These fundamentals have been beyond reach for far too many San Antonians for far too long.
And that has held us all back.
There’s a great quote attributed to Coach Popovich that says, “It’s not about any one person.
You’ve got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done.” And
that’s what we’re going to do.
Our top priorities must be managing the crisis, preventing both an economic and health
catastrophe, and providing opportunity for all San Antonians as we restore our livelihoods. We
need all hands on deck.
5
As we chart this course, we must put aside previous plans that made sense before the pandemic
sent shock waves through our community.
Rivers adapt when they encounter obstacles, so we, too, must adapt our plans for the future of
San Antonio.
That means new investment in our transit system must wait.
So in November, we will not be asking voters to redirect the one-eighth cent sales tax that
becomes available next year to the transportation system outlined in the ConnectSA process. We
will champion new efforts in our transit agency to assess and fund the priorities of delivering
effective, essential service where it is needed the most.
This is a painful, but necessary, decision for us. But direct action to ensure a healthful economic
recovery means rebuilding now. We will take the time we need to fully understand the depth of
the pandemic’s financial damage before making new investments.
This also means delaying a decision about the future of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program
funding. The slowdown in sales tax collections that fund the program means that the amount
committed by voters five years ago will not be collected until the summer of 2021 – much later
than expected.
Prudence requires that we wait until next year to make a final decision about the future of the
program’s funding, which for decades has made progress to ensure an adequate amount of clean
recharge flows into the aquifer.
The aquifer program will continue while we cope with COVID-19 and begin the rebuilding
process.
Repairing the damage of this upheaval alone will require our top priorities to focus on rebuilding
our city as a place that is stronger, equitable and more resilient.
This crisis has brought us collectively to a crossroads. The decision of how to respond is ours
alone.
We cannot allow the virus-spawned wave of unemployment to evolve into more poverty and
homelessness.
City Council and City staff already have taken initial steps, including the $25 million Emergency
Assistance Fund to help people knocked out of their jobs by COVID-19 pay their rent, mortgages
and utilities until we get our economy reopened and running again.
On Thursday, the City Council will officially set priorities for our restoration effort when we
approve spending plans for the $270 million San Antonio has received through the federal
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
6
It is essential that we get this right. And I am determined to craft a recovery that builds our
community in a more equitable way. This is the time to reboot. We must emerge from this crisis
as a community that doesn’t accept widespread poverty as a fact of life.
The funds available for recovery will be targeted at housing security, workforce development,
universal Internet access, and small business support.
We can’t allow rampant food insecurity.
And it is unacceptable for any definition of normal to include thousands of students who lack
access to education simply because they don’t have Internet service at home.
The Internet is a utility as essential as water and electricity. The digital divide must be bridged,
so we must have a broadband network that reaches every family in San Antonio
Housing security is a necessity. We cannot and will not allow homelessness to grow as a result of
this pandemic. San Antonio families who have lost their income because of COVID-19 can’t
also be allowed to lose their homes.
And small businesses will be receiving help so they can get back on their feet and provide jobs
for our community. The vast majority of San Antonio jobs come from small business. We will
not abandon this important segment of our community.
The funding that San Antonio has received through the CARES Act will help us prevent a
collapse of our community. But the work has only just begun. Just as you take a hard look at
your resources and focus your family’s priorities on what is truly important, so must I and
Council look with the same lens if we are to emerge stronger.
San Antonio’s recovery — just like this country’s and perhaps the world’s — will not happen
overnight. It will take months and maybe even years. The road will be long. But if we endeavor
together, we will prosper.
We know which way we must move and where we must end. We must find a healthier normal.
We must end as an equitable city, where all residents have enough food, a roof over their heads,
and a fair chance at an education and a good job.
But we will also have to cope with the governmental consequences of the economic slowdown.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s estimated that the city’s current budget will have $200
million less revenue than anticipated.
City Manager Erik Walsh already has suspended more than $80 million in budgeted spending to
address the shortfall. Additional steps will be required to balance this year’s budget.
7
And the next city budget is expected to be much tighter. City Council will be forced to make the
most difficult cuts in memory.
Business as usual is out of the question, but I know my colleagues are up to the task.
However, to stimulate the economy as quickly as possible and create jobs immediately, I’ve
asked our city management to accelerate all construction and infrastructure projects that are
scheduled and funded. This includes our six-year capital improvement program as well as the
projects that have been waiting to commence from the voter-approved 2017 Bond Program.
Safely but surely, let’s get to work!
Now, the CARES Act provided one-time funding. We will also need to address our economic
reality with long-term action.
That’s why it is critical that we continue the overwhelming success of PreK4SA, which will be
on your ballot this fall. After you voted to approve this program in 2012, thousands of San
Antonio’s youngest residents are now on a path of educational success and economic mobility. I
hope PreK4SA continues to earn your support.
But long term action, to ensure a sustained economic recovery, requires us to build on both ends
of the educational pipeline. Imagine a city where your ability to pay did not determine the level
of education you could access. A place where initiative and work ethic are enough to climb the
ladder of economic opportunity.
That’s the kind of equal opportunity that is fundamental to the American Dream and it should be
found in no less measure here in San Antonio than anywhere else in the United States.
The ‘new normal’ demands that the growing number of families (20 percent in 2018, the most in
the nation) who are locked in intractable poverty, have the keys to economic mobility.
We must strive for a community where every child, regardless of where they are born, has access
to affordable and quality education and professional certification programs, which we know is
the best way to build a durable future.
Tonight, I am beginning an effort to determine how we can best free ourselves from the anchor
of socioeconomic inequity through education and training. I will be convening a group of
community leaders to help us chart the way forward.
They will report back to identify the highest priority efforts we can make as a community to
improve economic opportunity for all. And we will act.
COVID-19 has changed our landscape. We must adjust our agenda accordingly.
8
The damage caused by this pandemic is forcing us to focus on ensuring that our community
weathers this crisis intact.
We will not abandon San Antonians to COVID-induced homelessness. We will not accept that
an economic underclass is a fact of life in our community.
COVID is a tragedy, but the pandemic can be an agent of monumental change if we use it as a
catalyst to solve the challenges that have hindered our ability to reach the next level.
As we rebuild, we will address our long-term problems. We will ensure that San Antonians will
not be denied a quality education because they don’t have access to the Internet.
And, we will provide for an infrastructure of opportunity so that San Antonio residents can be
part of the workforce that the future economy requires.
There are difficult days still ahead. We are in the midst of a long fight to contain the deadly
virus, and we are facing certain economic challenge.
San Antonio will emerge as a stronger city with a population prepared to fully engage in a
modern economy.
Our community has always been fortified by what we’ve survived.
Now, we begin the task of building from our foundation, and in doing so, giving rise to a more
resilient, equitable City of Opportunity For All.
Time and time again, light emerges from darkness, and beauty emerges from despair.
The compassion and resilience that define our unique culture will continue to get us through.
For the worst is temporary, and the best is yet to come.
Thank you.


Connect With Us Listen To Us On