GRTA makes case for Xpress funding amidst mixed state revenue report

By David Pendered

With the clock ticking on funding for Atlanta’s only region-wide bus service, GRTA is making its case with Gov. Nathan Deal and state budget writers for enough money to keep the buses on the road.

Jannine Miller

Jannine Miller

“We’re doing all we can to get assurances,” Jannine Miller, GRTA’s executive director, said Wednesday at the monthly board meeting of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

The strength of Georgia’s economic recovery will be a key determinant of whether the state funds Xpress after June 2013. The bad news is that Georgia’s latest revenue figures, released Dec. 7, don’t send a clear signal about the hoped-for recovery.

The headline on the governor’s revenue report was: “November revenue offers mixed results.”

Deal announced that Georgia’s net tax collection for November was down 0.7 percent compared to November 2011. The $1.35 billion collected represented a decrease of $9 million compared to a year ago, the governor reported.

However, there was some good news.

Through the first five months of the fiscal year, net revenue collections were up 3.7 percent compared to the same period in 2011, Deal reported. The revenue figure was nearly $7 billion for year-to-date fiscal 2012, compared to $6.7 billion for the same period of fiscal 2011.

Xpress route map

Xpress buses serve 2 million riders a year in 12 metro Atlanta counties. Credit: Xpress.com

These numbers are important to Xpress and the 2 million riders it serves every year.

They offer the best set of tea leaves available for guidance on the potential for the state to fund Xpress service in the current 12 metro Atlanta counties that are served.

The state has provided operating funds for Xpress for two years. The money has helped offset the loss of operating funds that had been provided by counties and the federal government.

But the state never put Xpress funding in its annual budget. Instead, it used surplus funds collected during the first half of the past two fiscal years

This approach provides no security whatsoever that state funds will continue to flow. The state can cut any line item, but such cuts are more difficult once a program is embedded in the budget. Xpress funding is not embedded in the budget.

Miller didn’t elaborate on the issue of state funding for Xpress. She touched on it briefly in her routine update to the board.

“We’ve been working very closely with the governor, OPB [Office of Planning and Budget, which serves as the governor’s budget office], and the budget offices of the House and Senate,” Miller said.

“There are a lot of restraints on the budget [and] we’re doing all we can to get assurances,” Miller said. “It will come down to state resources.”

The governor’s report on revenue collections for the month of November included these headlines:

  • Individual income Tax – Collections were up 3.3 percent compared to last year;
  • Sales and use tax – Collections were down 3.6 percent compared to last year;
  • Corporate income tax – Collections were down 191 percent because monthly refunds outstripped monthly revenues.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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