Plan B – After the T-SPLOST

An edited version of this blog post appeared in the August 12th edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Now, that voters have overwhelming rejected the T-Splost for the metropolitan Atlanta region, now is the time to take stock of our situation and determine our options. Since the status quo isn’t acceptable, a viable and workable “Plan B” is essential to the economy and working people all across the region.

The failure of the T-Splost can’t deter us from making big and bold plans. The solution has to make sense to the voters, address the priorities they have, be fair for Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb voters, as well as MARTA the backbone of regional transit, and it should increase connectivity and enhance mobility. Projects must be linked to outcomes that have the widest and most significant regional benefits and all funding options should be on the table. Nothing will change for the better without:

A COMPREHENSIVE REGIONAL PLAN: The City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb Counties have built the basic backbone for a regional hard rail, light rail and bus system. It is called MARTA. While politically unpopular, the Greater Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) has the most transit development and management experience.  The state could expand MARTA’s authority to the region incorporating the power and authority of GRTA and designate state funding for the expansion creating a new 10-county regional entity. With appropriate planning, the proposed multi-modal station in downtown Atlanta, could incorporate ALL forms of transportation, streetcars, bus, rail, taxi, roads and trails and serve as a model for similar integrated transportation hubs in all 10 counties.

GOVERNOR’S LEADERSHIP: Long-range plans need to incorporate light rail and a connecting intra-county bus feeder system in Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Henry, Fayette, Douglas, Cherokee, and Forsyth Counties. We cannot stand by and let lack of vision, fear of unpopularity or failure to define our region’s future. State leaders, under the guise of “local control” dumped the hard decisions onto local voters via the July 31st T-SPLOST. They took the easy way out. A regional system cannot and will not be built until the Governor and state legislative leaders face their obligations to invest in quality of life infrastructure for over five million Georgians who make their home in the metro Atlanta region. Local elected officials are essential partners but the leadership is best suited for the Governor who needs a strong metro Atlanta economy to build as a foundation for a strong state economy.

TAX FAIRNESS: Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb residents have rightly grumbled about tax fairness. The complaint is that they already pay one-cent for MARTA and the suburbanites don’t. If MARTA authority is expanded into 10 counties and the state funds the regional system, the benefits to Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta residents and voters are clear. For instance, with state funding for a regional system, the current one-cent MARTA tax can be granted an early sunset. Additionally, state law has unfair restrictions on how the authority is allowed to budget and spend revenue. With 50% of the budget off limits for daily MARTA operations, state law has set MARTA up for failure as the metro region grows. Currently, there are some in the state legislature who want to expand the MARTA Board by adding representatives from the newly created cities in North DeKalb and North Fulton – this “Quid pro quo” is a “no go”. State leaders and lawmakers need to do the right thing and untie MARTA’s budgetary restraint.

FUNDING: All tax options should be on the table. A revision of the gas tax laws to allow spending gas tax money on public transit really is a “no brainer”.  Everyone who drives pays the gas tax– even tourists when they drive through our state. Georgia ranks 49th in gas taxes – having one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation isn’t a badge of honor in this case. While no one likes new taxes, the gas tax has to be on the table. Motor vehicle fuel cannot be left untouched. It has to be part of the funding solution. Parking fees are another option.

We all can agree that a sales tax is regressive; it hits the lowest wage earners the hardest. However, we can somewhat offset the impact of the tax by exempting food and medicine. This exemption would help low-wage earners and the elderly on fixed incomes. The one-cent sales tax has to be put back on the table and it has to be a tax that is fair to all 10 counties – everyone should pay for a regional system.

Without vision and leadership, metro Atlanta cannot remain the economic engine of Georgia and Georgia’s economic recovery will continue to lag behind the national economic recovery. It is only through bold steps and new ideas that we have Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport or that MARTA and the freeway system were built in Atlanta in the first place. If an old race car track can evolve into the world’s busiest passenger airport, then, state officials can offer best practice solutions and can develop a viable financial plan and operational model for the 10-county region.

Comments

  1. Dexter McCloud says:

    This all sounds good but the truth is, I don’t trust the Transportation Authority. Classic example: Georgia 400 was only supposed to have tolls until it’s construction costs were paid for in 2011. That premise was the basis of the referendum getting passed. However, Sonny Perdue and members of the state’s road and tollway authority voted on September 24, 2010 to keep the tolls on 400 until 2020 so other highway projects could be funded.

    THEN, while campaigning for TSPLOST, Governor Deal offers to remove the toll from Georgia 400. Since the purpose of TSPLOST was to fund transportation projects, Governor Deal offered the Georgia voters nothing.

    Frankly, it’s an insult. And, it shows how much these career politicians have for their voters beyond our wallet