Richland penny will help us make our community better
By STEVE BENJAMIN
One Columbia. That has been my theme since I first began to run for mayor. But itís not just mine, and thatís what matters.
People from across the Midlands, from business to government, from downtown to the suburbs to the countryside, have increasingly come together in recent years, overcoming old barriers, to build a common, better future for ourselves and our children.
One of the more dramatic expressions of this was when a broad, diverse task force of citizens came together, starting six years ago, to find a way to address our most urgent transportation needs here in Richland County.
Detailed through this process were a public transit system terribly inadequate for a region of our size and aspiration, urban and suburban roads that were daily choked with traffic, rural roads that lay unpaved and few safe options for bicyclists and pedestrians.
We saw our community facing serious and long-standing transportation challenges. We saw our economy, our environment and our safety threatened and our ability to create new jobs and new opportunities undermined. We saw our future in doubt and did something truly remarkable.
Rather than waiting for state and federal government funds that never come, we stepped forward as one community and one people to take our fate into our own hands.
On Tuesday, you can take part in this bold grassroots initiative and join this broad coalition of community leaders, small business owners and families just like yours by voting ďyesĒ for the transportation penny.
Now, let me be clear. What weíre talking about here is leveraging one penny to raise $1.07 billion, 42 percent of which will come from outside of Richland County, over the next 22 years. Weíre talking about a projected 16,500 new jobs and billions of dollars in new investment. Weíre talking about less gridlock, safer roads and an unprecedented investment in first-class public transportation.
Weíre talking about realizing that we have the potential to become the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial community in America, and taking the steps necessary to make a vision a reality.
The truth is that, regardless of what the critics want you to believe, this vote isnít about government spending and franchise fees. Itís about the student ready to graduate and looking for a job. Itís about the small businessman who counts on the bus to bring him customers. Itís about keeping jobs in Columbia and helping foster a knowledge-based economy that can sustain the city through the 21st century.
Itís about buses and roads and jobs, but most importantly, itís about all of us working together to build a brighter, more prosperous future for ourselves.
You see, in the final analysis, we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That means, when everything is argued out and laid plain, that you have the final say.
While our opponents say you canít trust County Council to keep its word and follow through, I say that I donít have to, because I trust the people.
I trust that the grassroots movement that began this effort will continue after the penny passes. I trust that a 15-member independent citizen group of non-elected officials representing the entire county will oversee the process, and I trust that those citizens will ensure that projects are completed as planned.
But most importantly, I trust you. I trust the voters in Richland County, and I trust that if anyone tries to abuse or misuse these funds, we can and will vote them out of office. Thatís how a representative democracy works.
That is what One Columbia is all about.
We have such amazing promise as a city, as a region and as a people. Now is the time for our present to meet our potential. Now is the time to look toward a brighter future. Now is the time to join those working to build a better community for all.
Now is the time to vote ďyesĒ on the transportation penny.
Mr. Benjamin is the mayor of Columbia; contact him at skbenjamin @columbiasc.net.