Fulton, Atlanta weigh local legislation route to fund transportation

By Maria Saporta

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed last week to work on possible “local legislation” compromise for transportation funding that would address MARTA’s expansion plans.

The new compromise follows the reluctance of the Georgia General Assembly to give voters an opportunity to vote on a single MARTA bill to expand its sales tax by a half penny in the City of Atlanta, and Fulton, DeKalb counties.

Fulton mayors meet

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker sits next to Roswell Mayor Jere Wood and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at a meeting at Fulton County in February to discuss transportation funding options (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Eaves said the plan being discussed would give City of Atlanta voters an opportunity during November’s presidential election to pass the extra half penny for MARTA for 40 years.

The people living in Fulton County outside of the City of Atlanta would be given an opportunity to vote on a five-year T-SPLOST for primarily road transportation for .75 percent of a penny sales tax.

Next year (in 2017), those areas of Fulton County would be able to vote on passing .25 of a penny for MARTA for four years while the T-SPLOST is in effect, and they that would increase to a half penny for the transit agency from year five to year 35.

DeKalb County likely would ask voters to pass another half-penny MARTA tax in 2017. DeKalb is seeking its own sales tax this year.

“I support the local legislation,” Reed said about the compromise he had discussed with Eaves.

Eaves described his meeting with the Mayor as “a very good meeting” – showing a closer working relationship between the two leaders of Fulton County and the City of Atlanta than they have had in the past.

Eaves plans to reconvene the mayors of Fulton County at meeting during the week of March 28, which should be after the legislative session has ended.

support MARTA

Sierra Club’s buttons supporting the expansion of MARTA

But one issue is when would a MARTA bill have the best chance to pass. It is generally understood that it would have the greatest likelihood of passing if it were on the ballot during the general election for president – in November.

Confident that timing is on the City of Atlanta’s side, Reed said: “We will have a favorable result.”

As to the other jurisdictions, Reed said that all the polling research done for MARTA has shown that funding for transit is more popular than funding for roads in the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb.

The timing of when the ballot question is presented to voters also matters.

There were many false assumptions about the loss of the T-SPLOST on July 31, 2012.

A total of about 675,000 people in the 10-county region voted on that day with the sales tax losing in a 68 percent to 32 percent vote. Many people interpreted that to mean Atlanta’s did not want a regional transportation plan funded by a penny sales tax.

John Eaves

John Eaves

But less than four months later, during the Nov. 6 general election, a total of 1.69 million people went to polls in the same 10-county metro Atlanta region.

Of those, 56.4 percent voted for President Barack Obama (954,829) and 43.6 percent voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee (737,081).

While all Obama voters may not have voted for the transportation sales tax, it’s obvious that when there’s a robust turnout during a presidential election, there would be a voter base more open to investing in transit than during a Republican-dominated primary.

After 2016, the next presidential election will be in November, 2020.

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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