Friday, July 27, 2012

Sierra Club, Tea Party agree on 'Plan B' if T-SPLOST fails

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2012 at 3:19 PM

Sierra Club and Atlanta Tea Party support change in motor-fuel tax, GDOT reform, MARTA funding fixes
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  • Sierra Club and Atlanta Tea Party support change in motor-fuel tax, GDOT reform, MARTA funding fixes
Two of the T-SPLOST's most vocal critics, the Sierra Club of Georgia and the Atlanta Tea Party, today announced what they want to happen if the tax to fund news road and transit fails on July 31.

The environmental group and arguably the state's most active tea party movement have become unlikely allies and worked together in the last few months to defeat the measure. Today at the Gold Dome the two organizations' leaders stood side-by-side and unveiled their list of demands.

"Although the Sierra Club and the tea party will never agree on everything, we can find common ground," Colleen Kiernan, the eco-advocacy group's executive director.

Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots said elected officials who warn they won't revisit the transportation funding issue if the measure fails on July 31 shouldn't act like "spoiled brats" and instead try again. Dooley says she's already heard from a few state lawmakers, including state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, and state Sen. Renee Untermann, R-Buford, who promised to work quickly if voters reject the T-SPLOST.

Their demands, most of which would require state lawmakers' attention come January when the General Assembly convenes, include (thanks to Charlie at Peach Pundit for posting a digital version, as we only have a handout):

1) Discard the current three different taxes on motor fuel and enact a single motor fuel tax, based on the value of the commodity and allowed to rise and fall with price inflation, dedicated solely to funding transportation with a portion[a] of the motor fuel tax receipts available for “all transportation purposes,” including operating costs as well as capital and maintenance.

2) Allow any two or more local governments to create, and fully fund, transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens through referenda on local motor fuel or sales taxes, and other revenue sources.

a) Allow referenda to levy local fractional sales taxes and motor fuel taxes of less than one percent for local transportation funding purposes.

b) Leave decisions over specific allowable allocations of local transportation taxes and fees in control of the local governments and their agencies that administer them, free from State interference.

c) Allow combinations of local governments to form fiscal partnerships with GA DOT for sharing capital and/or operating costs of local transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens.

3) Before elected officials are given more money they need to show they can be trusted with what they have. As a first step toward transparency and accountability, DOT Board members should be elected at annual public meetings of Congressional District Legislative Caucuses in each Congressional District for open public election (no secret ballots) to one-year terms of service and review of transportation activities in the District.

4) Before MARTA is expanded, it should be brought up to date on maintenance and be restored to a reasonable level of service.

a) The Legislature should end its interference in MARTA budgets and resume an oversight role. Voters and elected officials where the MARTA tax is collected (Fulton, Dekalb and Atlanta) should decide how MARTA revenue should be spent.

b) The hotel/motel tax the City of Atlanta collects yearly should in some part go to MARTA or transportation needs, not to be used to build a new stadium for the Falcons.

c) Other options that should be considered include distance based user fares, charge for parking at MARTA lots, use part of the hotel/motel tax to help fund MARTA — even consider raising the tax to fund transportation needs.

Keep in mind that some of these proposals have been tried in the past under the Gold Dome and failed. Or that they could face political hurdles. Legislation similar to no. 2, for example, was proposed in the state Senate several years ago but failed by three votes in the session's final hours. Dedicating all the motor-fuel tax to transportation would likely mean cutting chunks from other parts of the budget, as some of its revenues fund public services. And whether Setzler and Untermann's support is enough to convince state lawmakers to revisit the divisive issue isn't certain.

Jim Galloway asked the duo an interesting question: If these are the items on which they agree, then what are their differences? Neill Herring, the Sierra Club's longtime lobbyist, said with a laugh that they "hadn't explored their differences yet." Dooley said people might be surprised to know that the tea party actually would be willing to support commuter rail in some instances, particularly if existing rail lines are used.

Dooley also said, as she told CL a few weeks ago, the tea party would consider supporting MARTA in its never-ending quest to lift state-imposed funding restrictions on the transit agency. (This is the part where we say the state contributes virtually nothing to MARTA's operations and maintenance.)

"The state has no skin in the game," she said today, calling it an issue of local control. "Why are they interfering?"

Worth mentioning: The two groups also have a friend in Ray Boyd, the Morgan County businessman and tea party member who bankrolled his own gubernatorial campaign — to the tune of $2 million — in 2010. Boyd told CL he's paid for yard signs and newspaper ads, among other campaign materials, to help the two organizations' defeat the T-SPLOST.

He declined to reveal how much he's contributed but did say the amount isn't "anything near" the sum that C.W. Matthews, a Cobb County-based road building company, donated to the business community's pro-tax, multi-million dollar campaign. Boyd did say, however, that he was on his way to the 'burbs later today to stick those anti-tax signs in front of commercial properties he owns.

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