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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Proposed transportation tax loses key supporters — nearly all Fulton County mayors (UPDATE)

  • Joeff Davis
Nearly everyone was excited earlier this year when lawmakers finally passed legislation that could provide new cash for new roads, bridges and transit. That cash would come from a one-cent sales tax which voters would approve — or reject — in 2012. Votes would be counted in regions. Atlanta would be part of the 10-county metro area.

But now folks are starting to speak up and say the proposal, which was fine-tuned in the final days of the legislative session — has some, well, issues. If the legislation isn't amended, all the blood, sweat and tears that went into finally passing the transportation tax could be all for naught.

The legislation written to pass the tax, which took years of debate and some personal lobbying efforts on the part of Mayor Kasim Reed, is rife with problems. The most glaring obstacle, one which could kill support in Fulton and DeKalb Counties: Any new cash can't be used to operate existing MARTA projects. It's the only transit agency in the state with such a restriction.

What's more, the new tax won't do anything to help build or fund local transit projects. According to the draft criteria list, projects funded by the new cash must serve more than one county. So say goodbye to new funding for the Beltline and Streetcar.

Maria Saporta warned lawmakers in her most recent column that the measure would most likely fail if the General Assembly didn't fix the legislation to address the MARTA issue. When she asked one prominent state lawmaker last week if the Legislature planned to amend the legislation in the upcoming session, the pol told Saporta that wasn't likely. “It was tough to get it passed the way it was," she said.

OK! Sounds good!

Saporta does the best job of running down why the tax, whose supporters include the business community, might not succeed unless the MARTA funding issue gets addressed. And today she reports that mayors of Fulton County cities — all of 'em except for Reed — have all come out against the tax.

If passed, Fulton and DeKalb residents would pay one penny in addition to the penny they've paid for decades to fund MARTA. (We've seen some tweets that say the mayors have also endorsed the creation of a regional transit system, but we've yet to receive hard confirmation of this proposal.)

It's impossible to tell how much stock voters will put into their mayors' opposition to a tax that's still almost two years away from being decided (and which could be changed during the next legislative session). But those concerns shouldn't be ignored.

UPDATE: Tom Crawford of Georgia Report, uhm, reports (sub. only):

The mayors of Fulton County’s smaller cities called on the General Assembly Wednesday to develop a regional mass transit system that would serve residents from all over the metropolitan Atlanta area.

“We would like a regional transit system that includes other counties besides Fulton and DeKalb,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said at a capitol news conference. “We also want regional funding . . . we will look to the Legislature to provide that.” [...]

While the mayors support the general goal of HB 277, they said it does not provide for an equitable method of funding mass transit services in the Atlanta region. [...]

“Is this equitable?” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker asked. “It is not . . . Clearly, mass transit needs more support. We’re looking for more funding.”

“We’ve got to find a way to level the playing field among all cities and counties,” College Park Mayor Jack Longino said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to regionalize this.”

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