MARTA, Sonny Perdue and something of a thaw

Woody Allen is rumored to have said that 80 percent of life is showing up. The same fraction might be applied to politics.

If the meeting isn’t requested, if the invitation isn’t issued, if the face-to-face doesn’t happen, then nothing else does. Just as in real life, egos matter. Sometimes even more than the greater good.

Last year, MARTA chief Beverly Scott wandered the state Capitol, telling any lawmaker who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, that the Legislature needed to release MARTA from a kind of bondage imposed since the transit agency’s inception.

State law has prevented MARTA from using more than 50 percent of the cash it raises from the penny sales tax levied by Fulton and DeKalb counties on operating expenses. The other half must go to construction.

Without a change, without access to more of its own cash during hard times, MARTA would have to reduce service, perhaps by one day a week, the transit agency’s CEO told lawmakers.

But she didn’t tell Gov. Sonny Perdue. “MARTA didn’t come to the governor for any help,” spokesman Bert Brantley said — a fact that MARTA officials don’t dispute.

SB 120, the bill to loosen the leash on MARTA, passed the Senate but went nowhere in a hostile House. “Armageddon,” Scott said, when the Legislature abandoned Atlanta last April. She pleaded for a special session.

No dice, Perdue said. Some federal stimulus cash was found to stave off the cuts. The governor signed off on the $25 million Band-Aid, but only after MARTA scheduled a meeting to explain itself.

Here we are nearly a year later, still struggling over the basics of building and maintaining a transportation system in Georgia. If there is a glimmer of hope, it’s the fact that the right people may finally be talking to each other.

MARTA officials have brought their case to the governor. “We certainly felt good about the reception he gave us. He appeared thoughtful and certainly seemed to have a very real appreciation for the dilemma that MARTA finds itself in,” said MARTA board chairman Michael Tyler, a fresh face who assumed the post in December.

Brantley, the governor’s spokesman, confirmed both the meeting and the tone.

Sometime next week, Perdue is expected to release the details of his first stab at a statewide plan to increase transportation funding. We’re told that the governor will recommend that MARTA be allowed to use a greater share of the Fulton-DeKalb sales tax to prop up its operations.

Perhaps as much as 60 percent, word around the Capitol says — with a sunset clause and other restrictions. Based on 2009 sales tax collections of $327 million, the new leeway would permit MARTA to shift an extra $33 million toward payroll and other expenses.

Not enough to close what the transit agency says is a $120 million gap this year. But it’s something.

Perdue gives credit to David Ralston, the new House speaker, for the change in atmosphere. The House, after last year’s opposition to the MARTA measure, has had a change of heart.

The governor’s spokesman also noted the influence of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has called for a “truce” among warring transportation factions in the state Capitol.

But not all of the thaw can be attributed to the niceties of diplomacy.

Perdue wants a 2012 statewide referendum that would establish regional sales tax districts across the state — wherever voters approve. But the key to fixing transportation in Georgia is the establishment of a sales tax district in the 10-county metro Atlanta area.

MARTA is the deal-breaker. Fulton and DeKalb counties have levied the 1-cent sales tax to fund the bus-and-rail system for 37 years, pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars. Other counties, notably Cobb and Gwinnett, have rejected the expense.

What might persuade Fulton and DeKalb lawmakers to accept another penny of tax — and a continued sales-tax gap in metro Atlanta? State Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) fears the governor may set the improvement of MARTA’s finances as the price.

“It’s like they want to ignore the last 30 years,” he said.

Fulton and DeKalb county commissioners are to meet Friday at the Capitol. On the agenda: “Defining consideration for Fulton, DeKalb and the city of Atlanta’s 30-year contribution to MARTA and transit infrastructure.”

Showing up may be 80 percent of life. But the other 20 percent includes some hard bargaining.

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15 comments Add your comment

[...] And, as posted earlier this evening, the governor intends to back a three-year suspension of the 50-50 restriction on MARTA [...]

atlin83

February 10th, 2010
11:43 pm

Okay, first off, this would be better than nothing. But honestly, really? Ooh boy – a temporary fix to a problem as permanent as the legislation that causes it! Since this has been a problem, repeatedly, why not fix it for a short time, and leave the mess to someone else next time? People should recall that MARTA’s last round of big cuts – 2004 – happened when it was allowed to spend 55% of the sales tax, more than now – another temporary relief measure that didn’t cut it. Whether it’s 60% or 100% that can be allocated where it needs to be, the reality is that either measure will only allow the money to be allocated where it’s most needed for a temporary period, and that the circumstance will revert back to the nonsensical way it currently is in the future. Make it permanent, and that’d be a start.

frugal voter

February 11th, 2010
5:14 am

Where does the state legislature come off mandating how the revenue is split?
The revenue is generated in DeKalb and Fulton Counties…only. No where else. Let the voters in those counties decide how THEIR money is spent.
When the state comes around to realizing that MARTA drives the whole Metro area and chips in some money then it can have a vote.

The Late Maynord Jackson

February 11th, 2010
6:17 am

Yum, Yum.. more money for the Jackson Machine..

inside gal

February 11th, 2010
6:27 am

Oh goodie – more payraises for Dr Scott and her consultant friends from Sacramento.

Army Brat

February 11th, 2010
9:28 am

Inside Gal….You’re obviously not inside.

Bubba

February 11th, 2010
11:35 am

When the MARTA system is cut back so severely that it is USELESS, do you think the Republicans, the Entrepreneurs that cash in on Conventions, ballgames, and everything else in Atlanta – do you think they will see then? Or will we pull a Detroit and move everything to (Pontiac or Lansing) Alpharetta and pretend Atlanta doesn’t exist?
Those that think this 9 lane interstate, gun toting, Bubba truck driving system of transportation that we depend on everyday is SUSTAINABLE are idiots. I’ve seen this area go from 2 lanes each way on the Downtown Connector to what it is now. Do you not see that the LEAST little thing – like ice at 14th street – makes travel almost impossible?
You want to bitch about what you are leaving to your children in the way of tax burden go ahead and feel shame for not leaving them a logical infrastructure that was built with everyone in mind. No less Utopian than believing Sarah Palin has enough sense to be President.

Art Vandalay

February 11th, 2010
11:36 am

Its obvious inside gal is OUTside the Perimeter at least.

Art Vandalay

February 11th, 2010
11:39 am

Bubba, our children will be living in Charlotte where they are capable of smart sustainable planning, don’t worry. Atlanta will be a wasteland of asphalt and abandoned offices and condos by then, they project a population growth of 3 million over the next 20 years, but if they don’t allow transportation options i see an exodus of about 2 million to other states and they’re taking their jobs and tax money with them.

Art Vandalay

February 11th, 2010
11:42 am

Atlanta sealed it’s fate as American big cities inbred redneck cousin when it was chosen to host the Centennial Olympic Games and built no venues on mass transit lines, the world has laughed at us ever since..well for that and having pick up trucks in the opening ceromonies.

BPJ

February 11th, 2010
5:09 pm

What a bunch of nonsense by Art. I rode MARTA to Olympic events every day in 1996. We had an unusually high concentration of venues near MARTA stations. The Dome and the Omni obviously, but I also count the Olympic stadium as near MARTA, as it’s less than a mile walk; in civilized countries, that’s considered well within walking distance.

BPJ

February 11th, 2010
5:25 pm

The larger point about MARTA is this: the Olympics are just one example of MARTA’s importance to the city and state. (No MARTA, no Olympics; ask anyone on the bid team.) Atlanta’s convention business is one of our major economic assets, and MARTA is an important asset in landing those conventions (ask anyone at the ACVB). The Ga. World Congress Center and the world’s largest airport both need MARTA.

But don’t let anything I say stop you from moving to Charlotte.

[...] to documents obtained by Jim Galloway, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s transportation plan would possibly include a three-year suspension on MARTA’s 50/50 spending restrictions. No word what kind of details could be attached any sort of [...]

CarlaB

February 12th, 2010
12:33 pm

For all you guys that think Charlotte is the place to be, please check with those of us who live here now. North Carolina as a whole is backwards. Charlotte is a victim of the media just like Atlanta.

Just like I don’t believe all the “negative” things the media says about Atlanta — I suggest you guys don’t believe all the “positive” things you read/hear about Charlotte.

LarryDensler

February 12th, 2010
12:43 pm

You got that right, CarlaB.

I live in Charlotte and I have been unemployed for almost a year.

Trying to get unemployed benefits here is almost impossible. The President passed an emergency unemployment extension in Nov. 2009 — the unemployed in NC didn’t receive ANYTHING until JANUARY, 2010 — because the NC computer are so outdated and Old! Do you know how many in NC lost their homes, families, lives because of this?

You can say what you want about Georgia — at least the Georgia Department of Labor PAYS their unemployed.

On the whole, Georgia ain’t that bad. Atlanta is absolutely a beautiful city with a lot to offer, and in my opinion, worth fighting for.