By Maria Saporta
After giving a speech to the Atlanta Rotary Club on Monday, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said he appreciates the role that MARTA plays in the region and the rest of the state.
“MARTA is an important part of our transportation future,” Ralston said in response to a question about how the state’s largest transit agency will be impacted by House Bill 277.
Ralston said MARTA ended up faring better in the bill than some earlier versions.
“We had to strike a very delicate balance between all the people,” the speaker said, adding that restricting the new sales tax being used on MARTA’s existing operations was based on the agency’s financial operating shortfall. “I want to give MARTA a chance to revamp its organization.”
Ralston said much will depend on how the new governance structure of MARTA will proceed. Under HB 277, MARTA’s board is being reconstituted. Also, there are discussions underway about possibly consolidating the various transit agencies in the Atlanta region into a new organization.
“I’m anxious to see what happens with the governance,” Ralston said. “I’m not signed off on any idea (about creating a new regional transit agency) at this point.”
But Ralston then made a point to express his personal feelings about MARTA.
“MARTA is important to me, and it’s important to the future, not only of the region, but to the future of the entire state.”
Ralston then was asked who he was planning to appoint to chair the House MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC). That position has been held by Rep. Jill Chambers (R-DeKalb), who lost re-election.
Chambers had used that position to continually investigate the transit agency’s operations although the state does not provide any regular funding for MARTA — the largest transit agency in the country to not receive annual operating support from its home state.
“I don’t know,” Ralston said about Chambers’ successor over MARTOC. “And if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.”
Saying there’s been a great amount of interest on that particular position, Ralston said: “We will actually be making those announcements in the first week of the session.”
During his Rotary speech, Ralston talked about how important it was to him that a transportation funding bill pass during the 2010 General Assembly after two or three years of having “let the people of Georgia down” on that issue.
“I made a commitment early in the session that I was not going home until we passed that bill,” Ralston said, adding that by the 38th day of the session he began to get worried. But the bill advanced the following day. “We put together a coalition that the likes of which this state has never seen before.”