By Maria Saporta
The MARTA board is exploring all options to meet a potential shortfall in operating dollars in 2013 as a result of the state legislature not acting to remove the 50-50 restriction in how the agency spends its sales tax revenue.
When MARTA was created, there was a stipulation that 50 percent of its budget go towards capital spending and 50 percent towards operating. Since MARTA has been unable to expand the system, it has sought the flexibility to spend more of the tax revenue on operating expenses.
The agency had been given a three-year reprieve on that restriction, but that runs out on June 30, 2013. The state legislature had considered removing the restriction altogether or removing it for at least another three years. But in the closing minutes of the session, the MARTA bill failed to pass.
The MARTA board held a specially-called meeting Monday morning to discuss the implications of the failure of the legislature to act.
According to a report from Davis Allen, MARTA’s chief financial officer, reinstating the 50-50 restriction will tighten MARTA’s already squeezed budget by an additional $9.7 million over the next three years.
MARTA Board Chairman Fred Daniels said that raising fares and cutting more service would be a last resort for the agency. Instead, board members are looking at any other possible ways to raise more revenues to make up for that shortfall.
At the same time, it is estimated that the sales tax revenue from the MARTA penny will decline due to drop in consumer spending in the City of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties — the jurisdictions that collect the MARTA tax.
Theoretically, the legislature could rectify this issue during the 2013 General Assembly, but MARTA has to put together its budget with the assumption that the 50-50 restriction will remain.
At the end of the meeting, the MARTA board did not take any action. But it will continue to explore all possible options to keep the system running.