Despite pushback, San Antonio job training, VIA funding and pre-K initiatives win broad voter support

Courtesy of VIA Metropolitan Transift
San Antonio voters overwhelmingly approved three sales tax measures Tuesday that will augment a training program designed to help people who lost jobs during the pandemic, boost revenue for mass transit and renew Pre-K 4 SA.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg's workforce training program, called SA: Ready to Work, was approved by 76.9% of voters. By this morning, the Bexar County Elections Department had counted all ballots at its 302 voting centers.

The $154 million, four-year workforce assistance program is expected to train 40,000 residents and be funded by an existing 1/8-cent sales tax. The city estimates more than 140,000 San Antonians have jobs due to the pandemic.

Opponents, some of whom are progressives, called the plan half-baked, pointing out that Nirenberg has promised to iron out many details after the election. For example, participants aren't guaranteed to land jobs after completing the program, although some of San Antonio's largest employers — USAA and H-E-B among them — said they will prioritize hiring SA: Ready to Work graduates.

Critics also said the program was crafted without adequate public input.

Those arguments first emerged in early June, when council approved $75 million — part of a $190.9 million federal COVID-19 emergency relief package — toward a similar workforce training program.

Some of the same critics of the measure maintain that San Antonio should prioritize keeping residents in their homes by investing the funds in the city's housing assistance program. 

SA: Ready to Work is scheduled to start September 2021.

The 1/8-cent sales tax allocated to the program had been paying for aquifer protection and linear parks. In September, council approved another source of city dollars to protect the aquifer, but that won't fully replace the funding, the San Antonio Express-News reports. The newspaper also reported that Bexar County commissioners have committed to building 26.2 miles of parkway trails.

The transportation measure on Tuesday's ballot also received pushback prior to the election. Critics said the allocation lacked details on how VIA would spend the money, adding that priorities could change for San Antonio's transit needs over the next few years.

Under the VIA proposal, once Nirenberg's training program runs its four-year course, the same 1/8-cent sales tax would shift into the transit system's coffers for an indefinite amount of time.

Despite the criticism, the transportation measure received 67.7% approval from San Antonio voters.

VIA officials and backers say the additional funding will allow the agency to increase frequency and service, while adding new technologies that enable it to meet the city's growing transportation needs.

The proposition to renew the popular Pre-K 4 SA program for another eight years passed with 73.3% of the vote.

The San Antonio Heron is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to informing its readers about the changes to downtown and the surrounding communities.

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