We all know that Senate Bill 120, the legislation that would've allowed MARTA to exercise control over its own finances and possibly prevent the transit agency from making drastic service cuts, failed on the final night of the legislative session. But why?
In a candid email to his constituents, State Rep. Ralph Long, III, D-Atlanta, says Georgia House Republicans used the bill as a "political football" and threatened to punt the measure if the Fulton and DeKalb delegations didn't vote for a GOP-endorsed piece of legislation involving freezes on property values.
Long writes in the email:
I will always stay true to my commitment to keep my constituents educated about the pressing issues concerning us today.
On Wednesday, April 1st, two days before the end of the General Assembly's 2009 session, the Fulton and DeKalb County delegations called a special meeting for the sole purpose of discussing MARTA. At that meeting, the Republican leadership approached the two counties with what they said was a deal. According to the Republican leader, they needed 20 votes to pass S.R. 1, an unpopular bill related to property valuation freezes.
We were told that we must support S.R. 1 in order to give the Republicans the votes they needed. In return, the MARTA bill would pass. If S.R 1 did not pass, we were told that the MARTA bill would die in committee and not be brought up for consideration before the end of sine die. The Republican leader said that he lives closer to Disney World than any MARTA train station, and that he only occasionally rides MARTA to ball games.
Emphasis ours, of course. Another Democrat lawmaker who was involved with the discussion referenced above corroborated the contents of the email to CL. He also named who allegedly made the "Disney World" remark, although we're going to contact him first to give him a chance to respond.
The rest of the email, including comments from our conversation with Long, is after the jump.
The members of the Fulton and DeKalb delegations thought it in the best interests of the citizens of Georgia, and the citizens of their districts, not to pass S.R. 1, which would have an especially detrimental effect on areas hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. We were offended by the partisan stance taken by the Republican leader.
Several members of the delegation pleaded with the Republican leader, reminding him that Fulton and DeKalb have solely supported MARTA for 30 years with no cooperation from the State of Georgia. That pleading was to no avail. The Republican's posture was matter of fact, nonchalant, and dismissive to our cries and the concerns of MARTA riders. The members of the DeKalb and Fulton County delegations decided to stick together against levying transportation priorities against base partisan concerns.
This state representative finds the actions of the Republican Leadership regarding MARTA disgraceful.
So this is another angle to why the MARTA funding bill failed?
"It is the angle why it failed," Long said when contacted by CL about the email on Tuesday night. "It is the absolute anchor."
"I implore you to take [that information] and report it, do your job," Long said, adding that he wanted the information to be known even if it meant political retribution from the Republican-controlled House. "I could be stripped of my committees for it, but I don't care. I'm [at the Capitol] to represent my constituents and this is an important issue to us. And that's why I released it."
"The Republican leadership can make anything happen," he said. "But they chose not to do that because they wanted to make MARTA a partisan issue. The issue of transportation and dealing with people's livelihoods is well beyond partisan politics...MARTA is the vitality of the city, for the most part. And if we don't address our transportation concerns, nationally, we look like a stupid state.
"My district, District 61, is right by the Oakland, Lakewood, East Point and College Park train stations," Long said. "So many of my constituents depend on those four stations. They're white, black, professional folks, everyone. MARTA is not a partisan issue... And it's time [the Fulton and DeKalb delegation] start speaking up...This is going to kill the city. And the reputation of the state. A great state."
House Republicans wanted the Fulton and DeKalb delegation to support, SR1, legislation that would freeze property tax assessments. Long and another Democrat lawmaker who spoke off the record said the majority of the delegation opposed the measure because it would've severely impacted local governments in the two counties, both of which have recently seen increases in the number of foreclosures.
We're checking in with other members of the Fulton and DeKalb delegations, as well as the lawmaker who allegedly made the "Disney World" comment. We'll report later.
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