The Atlanta Regional Commission today showed what true leadership can do.
The ARC’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee voted unanimously to pursue using up to $25 million in federal stimulus funding to help cover MARTA’s anticipated operating shortfall during the next fiscal year.
If the resolution is passed by the ARC’s board at its May meeting, then MARTA should be able to continue providing its current level of service through May, 2010.
When the state legislature last week failed to act on bills that would have allowed the transit agency flexibility on how its spends it money, MARTA warned that it would be facing drastic cuts — as drastic as cutting back service one day a week.
Transit officials appealed to Gov. Sonny Perdue to call for a special session to help MARTA through this period, but he declined. MARTA folks then asked whether there might be some executive order the governor could sign to help provide one-time funding. Again, the state didn’t offer much hope.
So the ARC has shown that the metro area is more united than ever to try to find transit solutions to our traffic mess in the region.
The committee included representatives from all over the region, including Walton and Barrow counties. In short, these local governments were foregoing about half of all the second phase of stimulus dollars that are expected to be earmarked to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
For MARTA, it was the first good piece of financial news that the agency has received in a long time. MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott, who was there for the unanimous vote, was overcome with emotion.
“Beverly got up with tears streaming down her face,” ARC spokeswoman Julie Ralston told me after the meeting.
The supportive gesture, which Ralston said was an idea hatched in the last couple of days, showed that ARC was able to act “on a turn of the dime.”
That is a sharp contrast to the all the political shenanigans that the state legislature put MARTA through during its unproductive and divisive 40-day legislative session.
The inability for the state to lift antiquated restrictions on how MARTA can spend its own money had made many people mad all across the metro area. After all, MARTA should be receiving financial support from the state, the same way that other states support their major metro transit agencies.
At a rally Wednesday in support of MARTA, the level of frustration and anger was apparent in the crowd. For the first time, I realized that if a solution wasn’t found, the situation could turn really ugly when transit service was slashed.
So thankfully, the ARC’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee has stepped up with a plan that can get us out of a crisis mode.
But Georgia, you are not off the hook. The state needs to quit being uncooperative and critical towards MARTA looking for skeletons in every closet. It’s high time for the state to emerge as a true partner to help MARTA work through its financial issues.
The Atlanta Regional Commission has proven that it’s all a matter of attitude. If you’re inclined, solutions can be found.
Please remember that during the 2010 legislative session.