Do major downtown businesses want to spend $50 million for a trolley?

Sacramento’s planned streetcar line this month faces the first of what may be three make-or-break moments this year – all involving money.

Major downtown businesses, including the Sacramento Kings, Macy’s and downtown hoteliers, are being asked this month to vote to tax themselves at least $50 million over the next 25 years to pay for some of the streetcar’s operating costs.

The mail-out ballots, sent this week to 300 select commercial property owners near the proposed line, are due back to City Hall later this month.

“This a crucial investment,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “The economic development connection to the streetcar project is obvious. It is going to further grow our downtown.”

Steinberg is a leading streetcar proponent, along with Congresswoman Doris Matsui, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and downtown Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen.

The Sacramento Kings basketball team and partners likely will pay the most, about $125,000 a year. Kings President Chris Granger, in an email to The Bee, said his group supports the streetcar effort. “We’re proud to support continued regional growth and recognize the impact the streetcar project would have on the region.”

Other major property owners contacted by The Bee also expressed support. However, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sent the city a letter saying it believes the city could be sued by a landowner who opposes the tax.

The tax vote only covers a portion of streetcar operating expenses. Streetcar advocates face at least two other hurdles in the coming months, including a big one in Washington, D.C., to come up with the hoped-for $200 million in local, state and federal funds to cover construction costs.

The Trump administration has proposed phasing out the Federal Transit Administration, which oversees streetcar and light-rail project funding, starting as early as next year, leaving little or no funding for future transit projects.

But Sacramento officials say they believe they can sign a deal later this year with the FTA for up to $100 million in federal funds. Congress earlier this year agreed to allocate the first $50 million to the Sacramento streetcar project.

The streetcar proponents also are hoping to persuade Sacramento Regional Transit to kick in $25 million from a state voter-approved rail bond sale.

SacRT has been one of the streetcar project sponsors, but several SacRT board members recently asked transit agency staff to show them a list of other ways they could potentially spend that that $25 million. Board chair Andy Morin, a Folsom City Council member, said the board wants to know first: “What are we giving up?”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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