Clean audit means state can now start supporting MARTA

By Maria Saporta

It’s time to move on.

That message is directed to state Rep. Jill Chambers (R-Dunwoody), who chairs the legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC).

Chambers has turned beating up on MARTA an intramural sport, calling on a host of investigations of the agency and accusing MARTA of mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility.

Chambers had asked the state auditors to do a thorough investigation into MARTA’s finances, hoping to find evidence to back her accusations.

Well, on Monday, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts — State Government Division released its audit, giving MARTA a clean bill of health. See story that appeared on the Atlanta Business Chronicle website.

This audit review should be enough to silence Chambers once and for all. She has made MARTA and the state jump through time-consuming hoops on her witch hunt for evil and wrongdoing.

And now it’s time for her to stop.

MARTA is facing enough challenges with declining sales tax revenues and increasing operating expenses without having to defend itself at every turn from a Chambers’ attack.

In fact, for the life of me, I don’t even understand why MARTOC exists in this day and age. Remember, the state of Georgia does not have any money in the game.

Unlike all the other major transit agencies in the country, the state shamefully does not contribute to MARTA’s operations, which puts our transit system at a major disadvantage.

Worst than that, the state won’t even give MARTA the flexibility to use the sales tax that it collects in Fulton and DeKalb counties on where it’s most needed.

When the MARTA act was created nearly 40 years ago, the state required the agency to spend half of its sales tax revenue on capital and half on operations. That worked when the system was expanding, but it is now an albatross around MARTA’s neck. Yet the state legislature has failed to remedy this inequity.

Again, no other major transit agency in the country has to deal with this kind of constraint.

The state audit now should change the tune at the state legislature. Perhaps our state can start looking for solutions to help MARTA survive these tough economic times rather than using the agency for target practice.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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