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Transit Funding Soapbox

February 11, 2010

Again, in layman’s terms, let’s examine the options for MARTA as they currently stand, based on my understanding.  It changes often.  If I get this wrong, hopefully Two or somebody will correct me.  Cause I’m trying to figure this one out myself.

See, MARTA is facing a $120 million deficit for the fiscal year 2011, starting in July.  Without some source of funds, they face those Draconian service cuts (i.e. death by Harry Potter)  that could mean MARTA would stop running three days a week.

There are a number of things to watch out for in terms of funding:

1.  SB 120.  This bill is still out there, waiting in the wings since it never made it out of the House transportation committee.  Remember, it was tabled during the last session, so it’s waiting for someone to pull it out, dust it off, and frickin vote for it!  For those who don’t remember, SB 100 (as in senate bill) was written by Rep. Doug Stoner to alleviate the 50/50 restriction placed on the sales tax MARTA receives.  This restriction, placed on the 1% sales tax Fulton and Dekalb counties collect for MARTA, dictates that half of the funds go to capital improvements while half goes to operating funds.  This means, only half of that income can go to fuel, salaries, electricity, and the basic day-to-day expenses that MARTA incurs. 

Now will this will help the problem, it’s not a solution.  Basically, MARTA would burn through their reserves and still be left broke.  Only broker.  So will we still want this, MARTA needs something else.  Which could come in terms of:

2.  The Dems are working on some fancy legislation dealing with the 4% sales tax on gasoline.  As it stands, for every dollar of gasoline that you by in Georgia, you pay 4 cents in tax.  3 cents of this go to roads and bridges, and 1 cent goes into the general funds.  What the Dems are proposing is that this 1 cent go towards transit in general, including MARTA.  They’re smart, too, because they’re proposing to make this a gradual transition, so that a quarter of the 1 cent will move from the general funds to transit, taking four years for the entire move.  This would allow for immediate funds to come to MARTA without a state/region wide vote.

3.  Governor Perdue’s plan.  See, the governor’s office came out last year saying, “MARTA didn’t come to us saying they have problems” and basically were inactive in the fight to save MARTA.  This year, the G.P. has proposed some sort of transportation plan, but it’s lacking in terms of funding for MARTA.  There are two key components of this plan to watch out for, though.

The G.P. has proposed selling $300 million in bonds to fund transportation projects.  His plan comes with a project list, and MARTA isn’t included.  So it’s my understanding that MARTA is trying to get in on a little bit of that action.  I’m not sure when those bonds go for sale, though.

The G.P. has also written into his plan SPLOSTS, special-purpose, local-option sales taxes.  This means that the metro counties could vote to tax themselves an additional cent for MARTA and transit in general.  This one isn’t so ideal for a number of reasons:  Where does that leave Dekalb and Fulton counties?  They already pay sales tax for MARTA, can they opt-out or would they have to pay another cent?  And would neighboring areas vote for the tax?  I don’t have a lot of faith in my neighbors.  And why would Cobb pay for MARTA when it runs CCT?  So what would happen to CCT in a TSPLOST?  But the biggest problem with this is that it won’t go into effect for years, so that doesn’t help MARTA’s immediate need.  These are also only good for 8 years, and in order to get Federal funds for transportation, you have to prove you can fund it for a minimum of 20 years.

4.  SPLOST legislation outside of the G.P.’s plan, still, not ideal for the reasons listed above.

5.  Collecting the sales tax.  Apparently the state’s Department of Revenue has been a little lax on collecting the sales tax from businesses and hasn’t even kept up the records for business licenses.  Despite this, there are also many exclusions from the sales tax, so money isn’t being collected on certain items.  I forget what, just bare with me, okay?  But there’s talk of this adding up to billions of dollars of lost tax money.  So the state is now left with the task of collecting these funds and this could increase MARTA’s coffers as well.  The debate now is, should the state collect or leave it up to the individual counties?  Who will probably be more eager to collect.

Now you may be asking yourself, why should you care about MARTA?  I know my coworker thinks it’s worthless and has no effect on the city.  For starters, think of the half a million people who ride MARTA.  A huge chuck of those people ride MARTA to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store, to things that are necessary to life.  How will my ladies at the shelter get to Grady or the Women’s Day Shelter without MARTA, because there’s not enough government funding out there for cab fare.  It’s $13 for a cab just to the train station!  Let alone downtown!

So if we estimate that a quarter of MARTA riders are busy running their very important errands, that leaves the rest of us going to work.  For those of us, like me, the AC, and One, who own cars, we have to go back to the roads.  I’m gonna be conservative and say that adds another 150,000 cars to the road, and you think traffic in Atlanta is bad now?  Then what about the folks who don’t have cars and who most likely can’t afford one, like the working poor.  How do they get to work?  They probably won’t, so they’ll loose their jobs, become homeless or go on the system, and those businesses will be without their hard workers.  And I don’t care what you say, those people are doing jobs that others don’t want to do, so it’s not like people are rushing to fill them, so they will go undone.  Like the maids at the hotels in Atlanta.  Who will clean the rooms for all the tourists and conventioneers?

O, that’s right, we won’t need them to be cleaned, because people will stop coming here.  Conventions come to Atlanta because it’s convenient.  There’s MARTA to bring folks up from the airport to downtown and Buckhead.  These convention goers can go places without need of a car because we have MARTA.  If MARTA ‘s not around, conventions will start going to other cities, like Charlotte, and Atlanta will be left behind.  Taxis are expensive!  It’s $30 some dollars to downtown from the airport and $40 some to Buckhead.  Plus tip and you’re spending more than $50 for cab fare.  This does not please conventioneers in an already bad economy where folks simply aren’t going to that many conventions, training budgets have been cut.

And people will stop coming to Atlanta cause the airport’s probably going to start sucking bad in the wake of MARTA service cuts.  Think about it, a great deal of the employees of the airport get there on MARTA, I ride the bus with them in the mornings.  Without MARTA, they’re either not going to work, making those epic security lines at the world’s busiest airport that much worse, or they’re going to be parking everywhere, meaning parking is going to suck that much worse.  And where will you park your car when you go to conventions in other cities?  Not at the airport! 

Think about all the world-class cities we have in the US.  NYC, DC, Chicago, Boston, they all have transit.  London, Paris, Shanghai, transit!  Where will Atlanta be without MARTA?  Birmingham, that’s where (and I know what sort of good threat that is for you native Georgians!)

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