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Regional transit agency going nowhere? 

State lawmakers punt on bill to wrangle metro Atlanta's bus and rail systems

Regional transit agency going nowhere?

Joeff Davis

Regional transit agency going nowhere?

After decades of congestion, sprawl, and kicking Fulton and DeKalb County taxpayers in the shorts, state lawmakers still don't give a damn about MARTA.

Case in point: the failure of lawmakers to make any progress on the much-discussed legislation that would overhaul how transit systems are governed in the metro region.

For months, one of the biggest sticking points about the proposed 1 percent sales tax to fund new roads and transit is that Fulton and DeKalb residents would have to pay for yet another transportation tax. After all, they've been paying a 1 percent sales tax for MARTA for more than 40 years. Lawmakers and metro Atlanta elected officials said a regional transit agency could spread the burden of funding the region's buses and trains would ease most, if not all, taxpayers' concerns.

Things changed, however, when the proposal that lawmakers unveiled in mid-February ultimately put nearly all power in the hands of suburban counties and the state — not the people who pay for MARTA, the spine of the metro region's transit system. What's more, the proposal wouldn't lift the unfair funding restrictions that the state has placed on MARTA since its inception. Oh well, maybe next year.

These kinds of fits and starts and unanswered questions don't bode well for the transportation tax that comes before metro Atlanta voters in July. Why should Fulton and DeKalb voters seriously consider handing over another penny for roads and transit when the state refuses to help fund MARTA, but still wants to set restrictions on how agency officials spend the cash? Why should we vote yes and trust that maybe next year lawmakers will finally get around to solving the regional transit governance conundrum?

Such a solution exists: House Bill 1200, legislation proposed by state Rep. Pat Gardner of Atlanta that's largely based on a proposal developed by the Atlanta Regional Commission that was blessed by metro Atlanta elected officials. Her plan would've divvied up voting powers based on a city or county's population and how much it contributes to funding transit. Like many of the good ideas we've heard this year, it isn't going anywhere because Gardner's a Democrat.

Instead, lawmakers are busy passing odious legislation focused on regulating women's uteruses, forcing welfare recipients to take drug tests, and jacking up fines on acts of civil disobedience simply to fuck with labor unions and Occupy Atlanta.

But every lobbyist and elected official, including Mayor Kasim Reed, should be beating down lawmakers' doors to tell them what's at stake. Fulton and DeKalb residents deserve to decide how their money is invested in their transit system. MARTA might be a creation of the state, legally speaking, but it has survived with our support.

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