A comprehensive look at the impact of HB 277 on MARTA and transit in the Atlanta region
For those who want to know exactly how House Bill 277 will impact MARTA,
I received the following message from the “Save MARTA” group’s Brian Baj.
It is the most comprehensive review of how the proposed regional transportation sales tax would help MARTA and how it would hurt MARTA.
The recap starts with MARTA’s 2010 legislative agenda, which included three priorities:
1. the elimination of the 50/50 capital and operations split of the existing one-cent MARTA sales tax;
2. providing a short-term funding bridge in the form of bonds; and
3. providing long-term transportation funding, including funds to operate and maintain transit.
So how did MARTA fare in HB 277?
The 50/50 restriction on the current sales tax is eliminated for three years and prohibits usage of new funds on wage increases, overtime pay and benefits.
On the issue of short-term funding, MARTA was not included in the state transportation bonding program.
On the issue of long-term funding, MARTA is “eligible to receive transit funds through a new regional sales tax for capital, operations and maintenance for NEW TRANSIT PROJECTS ONLY.”
But the recap goes on to say that the MARTA is not eligible to receive operating and maintenance funds for its exsiting system.
“Any new regional sales tax proceeds going to MARTA for the existing system may be used ONLY for capital infrastructure, NOT service.”
HB 277 also would restructure MARTA’s board.
MARTA’s board would be reduced from 18 to 11 members by removing three state appointees and appointees from Clayton and Gwinnett counties.
The new board would consist of :
3 residents from the City of Atlanta nominated by the Mayor and selected by the City Council;
4 residents from the DeKalb County appointed by the DeKalb County Commission, with at least one from South DeKalb and one from North DeKalb;
3 residents from Fulton County appointed by Fulton County Commission, with one from South Fulton and two from North Fulton;
1 state representative — the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, who would be a voting member; and
1 other state representative — executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, who would be a non-voting member.
There also is the issue of the Clayton County referendum.
Clayton County was authorized to hold a referendum on the question of levying a 1 percent sales tax to join MARTA. (A non-binding referendum passed decisively on Nov. 2).
Also, the state sales tax cap was removed to allow Clayton County to levy an additional tax for public transportation after January 2010, but before November 1, 2012.
If a majority of the voters approve the referendum, then Clayton would become a member of MARTA and gain two seats on MARTA’s’ board.
At the same time, the state established the “Transit Governance Study Commission.”
The 15-member commission was created to examine the Atlanta region’s current transit governance structure and to develop legislative proposals to create a regional transit governing authority in Georgia.
The commission is to be composed of:
4 Senators from Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) area appointed by the Lieutenant Governor
4 House of Representatives from ARC area appointed by the Speaker of House
1 Chair of MARTOC (MARTA Oversight Committee_
2 Chair and one staff member of ARC
1 Executive Director of GRTA
1 General Manager and CEO of MARTA
2 Directors of any other transit system in ARC area (Cobb and Gwinnett)
The commission is charged with preparing a preliminary report on the feasibility of combining all regional transit entities into an integrated regional body. A preliminary report must be completed by Dec. 31, 2010, and a final report is due by Aug. 1, 2011 at which time the commission is abolished.
Different parts of the bill have differing effective dates.
The three-year elimination of 50/50 restriction became effective upon the signature of the governor.
The authorization for the Clayton County referendum and sales tax cap removal also became effective upon the signature of the governor.
The regional sales tax provisions become effective on January 1, 2011, with a referendum on regional tax implementation currently scheduled for July, 2012.
The “Save MARTA” email did address the following issue. Given the fact that the regional sales tax would be in place for 10 years, it would be difficult for MARTA to issue long-term bonds for capital improvements.
It’s still unknown how all the MARTA issues in HB 277 will play out and how that impact support for the bill in the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Another critical issue will be the development of a proposed project list by the Atlanta regional roundtable. Currently that roundtable is being put together, and its members are debating who will serve on its executive committee and whether they will fairly represent the region.
What is known is that the role of MARTA and transit in the Atlanta region is in a state of flux. But what we don’t know is if the end result will advance, improve and expand transit in our region.