By Guest Columnist MICHAEL WALLS, an attorney who is a former MARTA board chairman and currently serves on the board.
We all know the story. MARTA was conceived as a five-county transit system but after the three suburban counties opted not to participate, it was developed as a two-county system for Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
For over 30 years those two counties have paid a one-percent sales tax that has been used to fund the construction and operation of MARTA. Not surprisingly, the fact that the three suburban counties chose not tax themselves to support the system has led to a certain amount of resentment among many in Fulton and DeKalb.
Today, the region is at a critical juncture. Traffic is a mess, and MARTA is facing severe service cuts because the one-percent sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb is no longer sufficient to sustain the system.
This session, the General Assembly is considering several proposals for creating a regional taxing plan for transportation. While there are differences, all of the plans for the first time ever would allow a one percent sales tax within the metro region to support regional transit including MARTA.
In light of these proposals, the question of “equity” for Fulton and DeKalb has become a much talked about issue among residents and some elected officials and legislators from those jurisdictions.
According to some, because of past support for MARTA, any plan that requires additional taxes from those counties for support of MARTA and transit would be inequitable and therefore should be opposed.
The reality however is that a one percent regional sales tax that excludes Fulton and DeKalb counties will simply not generate sufficient funding to sustain MARTA as it currently exists much less to build and operate the additional transit needed to solve the region’s serious transportation problems.
As a longtime resident of the City of Atlanta and Fulton County, I certainly understand the feelings of those who are concerned that any plan for regional taxation be equitable toward Fulton and DeKalb counties. I believe however, that it is time to reconsider exactly what equity means.
It is true that the residents of Fulton and DeKalb have taxed themselves to support MARTA while other jurisdictions did not, but it is Fulton and DeKalb that have received, and continue to receive, the majority of the benefits MARTA brings.
Almost 90 percent of the nearly half million riders MARTA serves each day are from those counties. Nearly 50 percent of those riders are transit dependent, meaning that they would not be able to get to work, doctor’s appointments or wherever they need to go every day were it not for MARTA.
If an additional funding source is not forthcoming, MARTA will be forced to enact drastic service cuts. Such cuts will have serious adverse consequences for the economy and quality of life in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
It will be Fulton and DeKalb county employers who will be unable to depend on their employees getting to work; it will be out of town visitors bound for businesses and hotels in Fulton and DeKalb counties that will be affected by reduced service from the airport.
It will be residents of Fulton and DeKalb counties who will be most affected by increased traffic and air pollution.
MARTA matters to everyone living and doing business in Fulton and DeKalb counties and most especially to the 47 percent of our riders who are transit dependent. Not only are those riders totally dependent on MARTA but for 30 years, they have paid the one-percent sales tax as well as daily fares.
What could be more inequitable than allowing the rug to be jerked out from under them in the name of equity?
Although Michael Walls is still on the MARTA board, the views expressed herein are his personal views and do not purport to represent the view of the MARTA board.