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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lawmakers strike deal on transportation funding, will vote tonight

Jesus, it only took three years.

After hours of debates and bickering over details — and threatening to once again leave MARTA hanging high and dry — the House and Senate have reached an agreement on the specifics of a one-cent sales tax that will generate much-needed cash to build roads, bridges and transit.

The proposal, which also gives MARTA a three-year break from the antiquated funding restriction that's caused financial strain for the transit agency, must still be approved by both the House and Senate in an up-or-down vote. That'll take place tonight. It'll be up to the voters to ultimately vote on the measure in 2012. So don't get too excited if it does pass. Money won't start trickling in for another few years.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons said the revenue generated from the one-cent sales tax can't be used to pay for the operations of existing transit projects. New transit projects, however, can tap the cash to run trains and buses. That means MARTA's current financial woes won't be helped by any new cash. Should the transit agency expand, however, that's a different story.

Mayor Kasim Reed, who earlier today visited the Capitol to urge lawmakers to solve the problem, attended the conference committee announcement less than 15 minutes ago. MARTA General Manager Bev Scott is on her way to the Capitol. More details about the funding proposal, her comments and — sooner or later — the vote, to come.

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