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Monday, June 18, 2012

MARTA might have a friend in the tea party

Next January, MARTA will most likely return to the Gold Dome, hat in hand, and beg state lawmakers to lift the ridiculous and unnecessary "50-50" restriction that requires the transit agency spend half the tax revenues it receives on expansion and the other half on operations.

It's been an exercise in futility. State lawmakers often find ways to treat MARTA as a political football. In the end, the agency might receive a slight change in the 50-50 formula or nothing at all.

The transit agency's lobbyists might want to reach out to Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, arguably one of the most vocal and organized of the tea party groups in Georgia. She told me at a T-SPLOST debate in Brookhaven on Saturday that she'd be willing to support MARTA in its quest to do away with the funding restriction. She also had some suggestions for how the transit agency could improve its operations. I followed up with her via email and she passed this along:

I do support doing away with the 50-50 split as taxpayers in Fulton and DeKalb that pay the tax should be the ones determining where the tax goes as they are the ones with "skin in the game". With that said, MARTA should not expect that state to bail them out if they spend the tax dollars un wisely. I think MARTA should institute distance based fares and increase fares, do away with some of the administrative overhead, explore public/private partnerships and part of the hotel/motel tax collected in the Fulton/DeKalb could go to help fund MARTA. The past few years , MARTA is losing $500 million per year. They need to be [become] solvent before they expand.

As we saw last year, the tea party, which enjoys some sway under the Gold Dome, isn't against joining with interests you'd expect them to oppose. Consider last year's bill that would have outlawed labor unions' protests outside the homes of CEOs.

There's always the chance that MARTA's funding restriction could be lifted if state lawmakers overhaul the governance of metro Atlanta's myriad transit systems. Still, the transit agency could use all the friends it can get. Maybe tea party members twisting state lawmakers' arms is the extra leverage that MARTA needs.

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