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Friday, February 22, 2013

Car-rental taxes could help fund transit under new Gold Dome proposal

Sponsor says legislation would allow use of car-rental taxes to construct and improve transit
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Sponsor says legislation would allow use of car-rental taxes to construct and improve transit
Georgia uses car-rental taxes to pay for sports stadiums and to promote tourism. Why not use it to fund buses and rail?

A state Senate committee this morning gave its blessing to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, that would allow using the levy on rental cars for the "construction and improvement" of public transit.

The proposal comes on the heels of last summer's rejection of the controversial T-SPLOST (R.I.P.) and the state's refusal to fund anything other than the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority's Xpress bus system. And it's nothing new. Cities such as Pittsburgh use car-rental tax proceeds to help fund public transit.

Fort says the proposal makes sense.

"We're not going begging, hat in hand, to the state [for funding]," Fort tells CL. "This is people who come in town and rent cars paying a little bit more to create a stream of revenue for mass transit."

Currently, Atlanta's car-rental tax helps pay off debt on Philips Arena. Fort stresses this legislation would not redirect any cash away from the arena's obligations.

If passed, the city could consider slapping another percent on its car-rental tax to generate bus and rail funding. That could possibly pay for new MARTA projects, Atlanta Beltline transit, or downtown streetcar segments, among other projects. However, the funding from the tax couldn't be used to operate existing bus or rail lines.

The question is, how much would such a levy generate? Our gut tells us it'd relatively small compared to other proposals. But when used in tandem with other funding measures, it could make a difference. We're waiting on details. If you have any information or factoids, let us know or comment below.

The proposal's passage out of the Senate's Urban Affairs Committee is not too surprising. (It's made up entirely of Democrats.) The measure's now in the Rules Committee, waiting for a vote by the full state Senate. Considering that state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, has signed on to the proposal, we give it good odds of at least getting a floor vote. Mullis chairs the upper chamber's Rules Committee, which basically decides which pieces of legislation live or die in the Senate.

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