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Monday, April 6, 2009

MARTA to Gov. Perdue: Call special session for funding crisis

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The MARTA board today called for Gov. Sonny Perdue to order state lawmakers back to the Gold Dome to consider legislation that might save the transit agency from implementing drastic service cuts.

MARTA General Manager Bev Scott says unless the General Assembly approves legislation that would ease restrictions on how MARTA spends a one-cent sales tax levied in Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County — its main source of funding — the transit agency faces "Draconian budget cuts" and "Amaggedon."

Possibly included in those cuts: No service on Fridays. Ariel Hart of the AJC reports decisions would probably be made in June and begin in September.

"Without access to this funding, we will essentially sever a critical economic engine in our state and no doubt send our economy into an even greater hole," Scott said in a press release. "MARTA is simply requesting access to funding that already exists within our capital budget in order to maintain a reasonable level of service that will get us through the economic tsunami we have all had to deal with.”

State lawmakers bungled a chance to resolve the issue during the legislative session, which ended Friday.

Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports:

Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said MARTA’s call for a special session is “premature” because the governor hasn’t seen details of the agency’s financial plight. While MARTA officials put that information together for lawmakers to consider as the bill went through the General Assembly, Brantley said, the governor didn’t receive a similar pitch.

“They didn’t come up and ask for help on the bill to begin with,” he said.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

MARTA's full press release, which includes talk of fare and parking-rate increases, is posted after the jump.

MARTA BOARD OF DIRECTORS REQUESTS MEETING WITH THE GOVERNOR

The Board Urges State’s Top Elected Officials to Convene a Special Session on Transportation and MARTA Funding Issues

MARTA Board of Directors today urged Governor Sonny Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson to call a special session to deal with transportation and MARTA funding issues.  During their 2009 General Assembly, state legislators failed to pass critical legislation providing regional or state transportation funding and lifting restrictions on the use of MARTA’s capital reserve funds.  The Georgia General Assembly ended last Friday, April 3. During the 2009 legislative session, MARTA petitioned state lawmakers to grant the authority access to $65 million in its capital reserve account to fund a significant gap in its operating budget.

“I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is that MARTA be allowed flexibility to use its reserve account to fund operation of the system.  I commit to you that the MARTA Board is looking for all ways to cut expenses and run this system as efficiently and effectively as possible,” said MARTA Board Chairman Michael Walls. “We implore the state to please reconsider this issue so that during this difficult economic time we can keep this essential transportation service running, which acts as a lifeline for so many people.”

MARTA officials will present a proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget to its board of directors on April 28.  At this time, MARTA officials say proposed  recommendations will include internal productivity/cost containment measures of mandatory 2-week (10-day) furloughs for non-represented staff, deferral of merit-based increases for non-represented employees, increasing the healthcare contributions of non-represented employees from 8 percent to 15 percent, and, reducing ‘other than personnel’ expenses such as advertising and travel.

MARTA officials have identified for its board’s consideration some $288 million of the $442 million that is needed to fill the budget gap through fiscal year 2012.  Due to the severe downturn in the economy and declining sales tax receipts, notwithstanding implementation of recommended cost containment measures, the authority is facing a $24 million budget shortfall in its FY 2010 operating budget.

Recommended external measures will include a fare increase and a long-term parking fee hike; core transit service modifications, which would consist of the elimination of all unproductive bus service, cancellation of some special events service, overhauling duplicative, overlapping service routes, and adjusting rail service headway and hours of service. MARTA’s Mobility service would be adjusted consistent with changes to bus and rail.  In light of the legislature’s failure to act, more service cuts and employee layoffs are now likely.

“Without the ability to access the capital funds, we will be forced to make such drastic cuts that greatly impact the economic vitality and quality of life in our region and state.  With our state’s unemployment rate hitting 9.3 percent in February, it is critical that Governor Sonny Perdue and state lawmakers help us avoid having to make service reductions that would make it difficult for many of our local residents to get to work or to search for jobs.  Without access to this funding, we will essentially sever a critical economic engine in our state and no doubt send our economy into an even greater hole.  MARTA is simply requesting access to funding that already exists within our capital budget in order to maintain a reasonable level of service that will get us through the economic tsunami we have all had to deal with.”

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