State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, tells his East Atlanta constituents that they and other intown neighborhoods hold the power in a tax proposal that could raise $7 billion for metro Atlanta road, rail and bridge builds.
He suspects they'll demand more transit and fewer restrictions on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
"I think that some changes with respect to MARTA and some changes with regard to other transit are going to have to be addressed in the next legislative session in order to set up the transportation referendum for success," Carter said Tuesday night at the East Atlanta Community Association's monthly meeting.
The 10 metro Atlanta counties are scheduled to vote in July 2012 on a region-wide penny sales tax to fund a list of major transportation builds over ten years. That list is being drafted by the Georgia Department of Transportation and a panel of county commissioners, mayors and city council members from throughout the region. It's scheduled to be finalized by Oct. 15.
In the coming year, "there's nothing that's more important probably to the business community and to others in terms of generating jobs and moving our economy forward than passing this referendum," Carter said. "But what that means is people who live in places like East Atlanta have to be satisfied that this program is going to work [for them]."
The draft list offers to East Atlanta intersection and traffic light improvements along Memorial Drive and Boulevard at about $2 million between them.
But it does not have enough to offer southeast Atlanta and southwest DeKalb, some believe.
"[T]here are no transit projects on the Executive Committee's Draft list of projects which would serve or be positioned in SE Atlanta … [and] Moreland Avenue and I-20 East have been identified as being in the top 25 percent of congested roads and congested highways," read a proclamation that the EACA happened to be considering the very night of Carter's presentation.
By a unanimous voice vote, EACA urged three major southeast Atlanta projects be put on the final transportation list:
- A MARTA I-20 East project to connect Candler Road and downtown Atlanta, estimated at $480 million. (MARTA has several competing route proposals that could cost more and could include bus, light rail and heavy rail.)
- A bus rapid transit line along Moreland Avenue from I-285 to Inman Park/Reynoldstown MARTA station, for some $36 million.
- The Atlanta Beltline Southeast segment, to provide transit between Glenwood Park and the Atlanta Streetcar at Auburn Avenue/Edgewood Avenue, estimated at $208 million.
The three were on a longer, earlier draft list but were stripped out.
To earn Atlanta's vote Carter said, "we all have to be comfortable with how it [the project list] treats intown neighborhoods."
Indeed, Republicans leadership opinion of the tax is split. If the GOP-leaning vote in the suburbs is split as well, that may make the Democrat vote decisive. The penny tax requires a majority of votes cast across the region. The regional tally will be binding on all 16 counties, no matter how each single county votes.
Said Carter: "The biggest problem is, there is no Plan B … it's this list or nothing."
Without the penny supplement, transport building budgets will still come chiefly from the state gas tax. That formula will net less revenue to those budgets as time goes on, according to Georgia Department of Transportation figures. That's because motorists will require less gas for their more fuel efficient vehicles and a larger percent of the revenue goes to debt service.
Carter said he's working to let MARTA have control over more of its revenue. Right now, most MARTA funds come from a penny sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb. State law says MARTA can spend a maximum of half of that on operations, yet Georgia gives the system no funding.
MARTA has lobbied against the constraint. Carter said he's working with the committee in the state legislature that oversees the MARTA law.
Carter also predicted that the next legislative session, which starts in January, will see the creation of mental health court, to help treat, rather than simply punish, offenders who have a mental illness.
Finally, Carter predicted the legislature will see some kind of awaited reform to education.
That could include something like tweaking the Quality Basic Education formula, which the state uses to allocate funds to schools.