Dare I say it … Progress on the Transportation Front?

I sincerely hope that Metblogs isn’t your sole source for local news, but just to catch up any readers who may be a few days behind: last night the Georgia Legislature (on its third-to-last day of the 2010 session) passed the “Transportation Investment Act of 2010.”  Great news!

photo Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com

But first, a nod towards a little bit of background: On Tuesday MARTA staged a rally and “publicity campaign,” dramatically marking huge red X’s on a third of their fleet to represent the buses and trains that would be taken out of service later this year in order to help fill a $120 million budget hole.

The kicker (well, one of the kickers) is that MARTA has money – not a lot, but what they do have they weren’t allowed to use. By law, they can only spend 50% of their revenues from sales tax on operations. That’s why, I assume, we have all the brand-new fancypants black buses driving around in a time of rate hikes and service cuts.

There are obviously about 50 layers of issues here that I’m not going to pretend to know about and/or can’t get into, including the fact that MARTA is the only major transit system in the country without state funding, that leadership supposedly wants state funding but not state oversight, that the legislature has been debating a transportation funding bill for three years, and so on. (and on).

BUT! Last night we made progress! They’re going to let us tax ourselves! Hooray! A bill passed last night that will divide the state into 12 regions, and let each region vote in a referendum to thumbs up or thumbs down a list of transportation projects in the region, along with a 1% sales tax to fund them. Money has to come from somewhere, I suppose, and it’s better than nothing. HB277 also lifts that restriction on MARTA’s operations funding, though just for 3 years.

The bill just passed last night, and is on the Governor’s desk to be signed (he technically has 40 days past the end of session to sign it, I believe), so it’s not final yet. And nothing will actually happen for another couple of years (referendums would take place in 2012).  But I am allowing myself to hope, just a teeny bit, that Atlanta might eventually be, in my lifetime, a place where people ride a train or take a bus and it’s a quick, reasonably priced, perfectly normal means of getting from one place to another. Hoping this is a good step.

More info on the legislation – bill itself here, CL’s fresh loaf here, GPB Lawmakers here, AJC here .

3 Comments so far

  1. silverrubicon on April 22nd, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    In todays climate, I don’t see any referendum passing that includes a tax increase. I still think we need (a) a new governor and forward thinking leadership (b) MARTA placed under state control of that leadership. As Sonny Perdue was elected and has made it his business to avoid all business, I don’t see intelligent leadership arriving anytime soon. While placing MARTA under state control and building tracks where tracks should be built (Gwinnett, Cobb) and running buses where buses should run (Gwinnett, Cobb, Clayton, etc) is a great idea, don’t see the rest of the state going along with the idea as they’re not all that fond of Atlanta.

  2. bking on April 22nd, 2010 @ 10:47 am

    Just to clarify – MARTA currently DOES have state oversight in the form of the MARTOC committee in the legislature. The Chair of that Committee is the MARTA-hating Jill Chambers. It’s a great arrangement where she gets to publicly blast MARTA every now and then and then do nothing to try and help.

  3. abby on April 22nd, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    @silverrubicon Do you think the lack of referendum-passing is really tied to the economic climate? It looks like these wouldn’t be put on the ballot till 2012, when hopefully things will have straightened out a little bit. Maybe people will be a bit more optimistic about investing by then.

    Also, we are getting a new Governor shortly. Are there any candidates that you think might qualify as “intelligent leadership?”

    @bking Thanks for the clarification. Here I am, rumormongering without info to back my claims up! Did MARTOC support lifting the funding restriction? Did they make other recommendations for budget fixing?

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