By Maria Saporta
It is essential for metro Atlanta to pass the regional transportation funding bill in August, 2012, according to Georgia Rep. Mike Jacobs, who is the new chair of the legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC).
“It’s a critical time for transportation in the state,” Jacobs told people attending the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable Friday morning. “It’s a good bill, and it’s a workable bill.”
Jacobs was asked, however, how he reconciles his views on passing a regional penny sales tax with his MARTOC role, when the funding bill prohibits any of the new revenue being able to go towards covering MARTA’s existing operations. He also was asked about the political implications of whether the tax could pass in Fulton and DeKalb counties given the restriction against MARTA.
“I acknowledge it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” Jacobs said about sustainable funding for MARTA. “I’m a DeKalb County legislator who rides MARTA and pays the MARTA penny every time I go to the store,” Jacobs said. “I would love more participation (from surrounding counties) to take off the shoulders of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb.”
But Jacobs believed those issues could be addressed outside of the regional sales tax referendum. The two areas where the state can help improve MARTA’s financial stability are in reviewing and revising the existing MARTA Act and by addressing regional transit governance.
“We need to sustain MARTA,” Jacobs said. “It is an important regional asset. I recognize that, and the speaker (David Ralston) recognizes that, which is why I’m in that job.”
Later Jacobs mentioned that some options included permanently removing the restriction that MARTA has to spend 50 percent of its existing penny sales tax on capital and 50 percent on operations. Having greater flexibility on how it spends its existing penny would help.
Also, Jacobs said the MARTA Act could be revised to allow the transit agency to sell its maintenance services to other agencies and have that become a new source of MARTA revenue.
Also on the panel at the SART meeting, which is a first Friday morning gathering of people interested in environmental issues, was state Sen. Jason Carter (D-DeKalb).
“As a representative of Atlanta and DeKalb…, from a politics standpoint, most people in those areas are going to have to see action on MARTA before they support an action on the regional T-SPLOST,“ Carter said.
But later Carter said he welcomed the leadership of Jacobs as the new chair of MARTOC. The former chair, Rep. Jill Chambers (R-DeKalb), had used that position to constantly berate MARTA. She was defeated in November.
“At the state level, the treatment of MARTA has been so bad for so long,” Carter said. The new chair of the MARTA Oversight Committee is a breath of fresh air. We have great leadership in that position now.”