Behind the transportation bill was the shoulder of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

After four years of effort, our Republican-controlled Legislature last week passed a transportation funding bill. As if it were a billion-dollar kidney stone.

Sweat-stained relief, rather than elation, is the dominant emotion at the state Capitol.

Though the money from a yet-to-be-approved sales tax won’t show up for three years, metro Atlanta at least has been offered a means of ending the drought of people-moving cash — whether for road or rail — that has threatened to turn us into Birmingham.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed/Special

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed/Special

The margin of victory on Wednesday, 43-8 in the Senate and 141-29 in the House, belies the pain and drama of the delivery.

Republicans and business leaders give Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed much of the credit for passage of HB 277. The former state lawmaker crossed the street from City Hall and broke through a wall of opposition thrown up by his fellow Democrats.

It was by far the riskiest move of his early mayoral career.

“I think he put his personal political reputation on the line with Democrats who thought the bill was not enough,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The best-known highlights of HB 277 are these: 12 regional districts encompassing the state, including metro Atlanta, would be permitted to hold individual referendums in 2012, to decide whether to levy a 1-cent sales tax for transportation purposes.

(Democrats demanded a 2010 vote, but Republicans feared a tea party backlash.)

But it was the MARTA component of HB 277 that threatened to torpedo the bill — there is nothing like transportation to bring out the crippling hostilities of race and region in the South.

Since its inception, MARTA has been handcuffed with a state mandate that only 50 percent of the cash raised by the sales tax levied by Fulton and DeKalb counties can go toward operation expenses. The rest must go toward capital improvement.

No other transit agency in the state has the restriction. HB 277 loosens those handcuffs for three years — MARTA had declared the provision essential to its short-term survival. But the Legislature heaped on other MARTA-only rules governing the use of any money from a new sales tax.

The restrictions, imposed at the insistence of House Speaker pro tem Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta), incensed Democrats.

But Republicans, too, were in a foul mood, said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island). Earlier, Democrats had forced Republicans to do the heavy lifting on a hospital bed tax needed to close the budget gap.

GOP lawmakers threatened to deep-six the transportation funding bill — which offers up a tax by referendum — if Democrats repeated the tactic.

Republicans were even more ticked off when Democrats, led by House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin — as transportation negotiations were under way — attempted to challenge the constitutionality of HB 1055, a budget-funding bill that included fee increases, the hospital bed tax and future tax cuts.

Porter is a candidate for governor.

“It came incredibly close to killing the MARTA language,” Keen said.

Keen focused his efforts on calming Republicans. The mayor of Atlanta went to work on House Democrats, white and black.

Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) gave Reed the use of his conference room, providing the mayor with a place to assemble and persuade Democratic lawmakers — many of whom wondered why Reed would allow the GOP to paper over its neglect of transportation funding so close to November.

“[Reed] recognized that this was more important than the politics of the year,” Keen said. “I give him all the credit in the world.”

At the outset, pro-transportation lobbyists working the ropes that separate them from lawmakers counted 86 yes votes in the House, Democrats and Republicans.

Those watching him said Reed was frustrated by MARTA’s lukewarm support for the bill. At one point, desperate to enlist Beverly Scott, the transit agency’s well-spoken CEO, in the Capitol lobbying effort, witnesses said the mayor dispatched a patrol car — blue lights blazing — to MARTA headquarters.

The officer returned empty-handed.

Reed’s break came when state Rep. Calvin Smyre, who routinely treks in and out of the White House, backed the mayor’s move. Democratic votes cascaded behind the Columbus lawmaker.

Porter, the House minority leader, voted no. So did Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown of Macon.

“No one deserves an outsized share of the credit,” Reed said in a Friday telephone interview. The mayor said he was most concerned with metro Atlanta’s business reputation — and the gains that have been made in Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte.

“Four years of failure are hard to explain in that kind of competitive environment,” Reed said. The mayor also emphasized the money that would be injected into the economy by a transportation sales tax — at least $750 million a year.

“We have never had such a large amount of capital being deployed in such a concentrated fashion in modern history,” he said.

Over at MARTA, board Chairman Michael Tyler expressed gratitude to Reed. “I think the mayor showed exemplary leadership, superb leadership in helping to get the transportation bill across the final hurdle,” Tyler said. Riders, he said, were well-served.

But the chairman said he was surprised by language in the bill that requires a reconstitution of MARTA’s 18-member board down to 11 members. One of them, given expressed voting power, will be state Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith.

“One would hope that it might signal a greater commitment on the part of the state to provide more of an investment in MARTA,” Tyler said.

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41 comments Add your comment

Chips In The Cookies. And The Georgia Legislature.

April 24th, 2010
3:30 pm

“After four years of effort, our Republican-controlled Legislature last week passed a transportation funding bill. As if it were a billion-dollar kidney stone.”

Don’t know whether to laugh or cry with that bit of meaty, if not poetic, prose.

Jon

April 24th, 2010
3:46 pm

The legislature is composed of idiots who pledged their loyalty to a party, not the state of Georgia.

Kudos to Kasim. Glad there’s at least one elected official working downtown that can get things done.

Chris

April 24th, 2010
4:13 pm

@Jon- You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mayor Reed just sold out Gov. Roy Barnes, Thurbert Baker, Michael Thurmond, MARTA and the Fulton and DeKalb delegations. The compromise he made was horrible and will make it difficult for Democrats to win this fall. Notice that Dr. Scott was not in support. Mayor Reed must have cut a deal for himself with the Republican Party. I wouldn’t want Jerry Keen giving me kudos and he just used MARTA as a political football last year.

Kasim Reed and Calvin Smyre are known to cut deals for themselves and sell out everyone else in the process.

We’ll be back here in another 3 years begging the Republicans (again) to commit support to rail.

Jim Galloway has always been on Reed’s tit.

Byron Mathison Kerr

April 24th, 2010
4:17 pm

Too bad metro Atlanta wasn’t part of a single transportation district back in the 1970’s. Imagine a MARTA rail system that actually reaches into suburbia and was built with heavily subsidized federal funds. Oh, the sad, high price of narrow-minded, short-sighted incompetence!

Saul

April 24th, 2010
4:18 pm

Mayor Reed has been impressive thus far.

Road Scholar

April 24th, 2010
4:22 pm

Chris Reed didn’t sell out Barnes and the Democrats, he bought us some time to get our referendum right, and showed the Repubs can’t organize a one car funeral. By the way Uncle Sonny promised the extra money in 2002, not 2006, and sold bonds which have crippled the DOT; the bonds went for GRIP projects, not exactly the highest need in he state. But it appeased the rurals.

Just adjust the gas tax to inflation, let GDOT and the MPO’s and the RDC’s plan, and prioritize projects w/o politics. The last caveat is probably impossible.

The Late Maynord Jackson

April 24th, 2010
5:08 pm

Reed is the Jackson Machine’s boy.. He sure can handel those white boys, too bad he can’t handle Ms. Scott but that’s why MARTA is in such a mess. This is a big win for the Jackson Machine, drinks all round..

Jason

April 24th, 2010
5:14 pm

There’s much to dislike in the transportation bill but it is still better than the current situation. My favorite dumb inclusion: money raised by the transportation tax can be used to build toll lanes. So people will pay for the road each time they buy something and still have to pay to drive in those lanes… or stay stuck in traffic in the non-toll lanes.

I wonder what a Mayor Norwood would have done. My guess is sit in her office and when the bill didn’t get passed complain that no one hand delivered her a copy of the bill to read so she had no way of knowing what was going on.

Good to see the mayor is using his state influence to help out Atlanta and all of Georgia.

Huey Hoover

April 24th, 2010
5:42 pm

A helipad for everyone….and a chicken in every pot.

John

April 24th, 2010
7:20 pm

That most certainly is not a Capitol elevator. I believe there are only four floors… not forty. A true tribute to how much time the man actually spent under the gold dome trying to make things hapen for the state of Georgia. Way to come over the day the bill is passed to try and take credit for what legislators have been trying to put together for four years.

Scott

April 24th, 2010
7:33 pm

Did this bill include the Clayton Co referendum on joining MARTA or is that separate legislation? One to remember people is the 2010 Census is going to change the make up of the legislature. The Atlanta metro area will hold the majority by far when the districts are redrawn. That in and of itself is reason not to vote for a Republican Governor (as if we really needed more reasons)

Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SuperUGLY"

April 24th, 2010
9:34 pm

You know, MARTA could help itself out even more, much more, if it raised fares to a level of $3-$5 a trip ($2-a-trip should be a deeply discounted rockbottom rate for frequent users, handicapped riders, senior citizens, etc). Raising the fares to over $3/trip off-peak and to over $4/trip during peak times and during late and overnight hours would help raise the much-needed hundreds of millions of dollars more in funds needed to maintain and expand the geographical reach and increase the frequency of train and bus (and possibly cable-car and light-rail) service. Think about it, $2 each way is an extremely low fare rate when compared to many cities with extensive mass-transit systems all over North America and the world. There’s just not much that a transit system can do with revenues from fares as absurdly low as $2 a trip. Raising the fares to the $3-$5 range along with the elimination of the 50-50 rule (and maybe a change in management structure) would provide MARTA or any regional transit agency with lots more cash revenues to work with!

Jon

April 24th, 2010
9:48 pm

The 50/50 rule should have been gone years ago. It’s a relic left over from the origins of the system.

Before raising fares across the board, MARTA should study and evaluate a fare system based on trip length. An individual riding from North Springs to the Airport should absolutely pay more than one traveling from Five Points to Midtown.

I believe they have the ability to enact such a system since the move to the Breeze card, someone can correct me if I’m wrong.

Fulton Resident

April 24th, 2010
10:30 pm

Which elevator in the state capital has 26 buttons for 26 different floors?

That must be one of the secret modern elevators that services the 22 secret basement floors.

Virginia

April 25th, 2010
12:00 am

If you ever had to rely on public transit like many disabled,elderly, and low-income riders have to do daily, then maybe you would have more sympathy for us. Too many folks-including those in MARTA- think that the only riders are poor minority troublemakers and the occasional riders-who will invariably return to their cars at the least little inconvenience. Most of us have NO car to go back to us when MARTA, etc fails us. That will mean more caes on the road,more pollution, and more unemployment when MARTA cuts routes.” Sorry ” doesn’t cut it for us. Maybe, if funds from the already paid-for toll were used to pay for public transit, MARTA,etc. could keep running. A penny tax will only go so far before MARTA cries “poor mouth” again. New buses, electronic signs with a beautiful ribbon pattern,ad Tv’s in the buses and trains that don’t always work (a lot of the latter often flicker, which could cause seizures in epileptics) don’t convince us (nor does preferential treatment -service improvements-not in N.Dekalb or N.Fulton which is the area of most of the cuts in certain areas) that the CEO of MARTA prioritises in the way desirable for most riders. Adding food vendors will only make things worse. Why do you think they cut eating and drinking off the buses (and later trains when they started-I’ve been riding MARTA for 32 years-I’ve seen the messes riders left behind)? Now, I still see messes left behind in the stations and trains and riders still eat on the buses and the drivers say nary a word to them. Fear or preferential treatment?

Virginia

April 25th, 2010
12:11 am

I might add that tge zone system won’t work here. Guess who would pay the most and least? The tax-payers in the northern counties of Dekalb and Fulton already pay more than their share, whereas those in the southern counties of the same would pay far less. Guess who would still get better service though. Not the first group. I’ve already seen who gets the better service in 32 years every time there’s a cutback-even when the bus drivers admitted their buses were not packed like sardines and empty on Sundays and holidays. MARTA provided lovely service all around to me former neighbourhood during the Olypmics, but after the Olympics rolled out and the Para-Oplymics came in, gone was the lovely service. See, that’s the idea MARTA really has towards the disabled. How do we know Ms.Scott’s not squandering the money like Nathaniel Ford did? You think anybody’s going to dare investigate? Took them long enough before they got onto Ford-after he left.

Bill Campbell's Replacement

April 25th, 2010
7:29 am

Reed is just a puppet of the same people who put Campbell in place so he could steal every penny he could. Reed is no different. He owes his election to the same people in control of politics in GA. Ga has sold out to the developer/banker/lawyer/politician. Ga and more precisely Atlanta is a cess poll of politcians. 99% of them are supposedly Republicans.

mike

April 25th, 2010
8:07 am

It’s public transportation! No one is going to pay 3.00 to 5.00 to take the MARTA. Public transportation should be funded by the state.
Now, if Reed can only make downtown a more vibrant destination he will have my vote for a second term,

David

April 25th, 2010
8:20 am

Hey Mayor Reed, if you or any city official happens to read this, can we get our light bulbs replaced.
I live at 300 Peachtree Street (downtown) the lite bulbs along side my building have been burned out for more than a year. The building paralles a small city park on Peachtree Street. We have called the city repeatedly, but still no action.

Lola

April 25th, 2010
9:00 am

Georgia is so behind the times. I see this column and the “Georgia Gang” is praising the Republican Legislature for doing a job…albeit 4 years late. If I deliver on my job 4 years late it
would be a no brainer I would be fired, which many of these politicians will be in November.

Michael

April 25th, 2010
10:04 am

It works for Atlanta and and Dekalb and their puny bus/rail system. I need to get one of those gubment contracts.

Real MARTA BUS DRIVER

April 25th, 2010
10:25 am

I don’t care what happens as long as my $100,000.00 pay doesn’t get cut. That Scott girl may be crazy but she knows better that to fool around with the Union.

willy

April 25th, 2010
12:43 pm

@Jon. I can correct you. Marta’s rail service, especially from North Springs to the airport, can be less than convenient, at best. There really would be no way to charge per distance of the trip without having checkpoints and such. That would be a logistical nightmare that no one, save the small minded Marta management, would think they could handle. Sometimes I pay my 2 bucks to go 1 mile, sometimes I span the county with it. It’s supposed to even out. MARTA does itself and its riders many disservices with worrying about the little things too much, all the while wasting money on big projects meant to impress someone other than its riders.

willy

April 25th, 2010
12:46 pm

@ Mike. Exactly right. Especially with the poor services MARTA currently offers (with threats of it getting worse unless they get more money), not many people would opt for $10 round trips across town. MARTA’s biggest problem is that they make their service less and less convenient, not more so. The best way to increase revenue will always be to increase ridership.

willy

April 25th, 2010
12:48 pm

@ Bill Campbell’s Replacement: What is a cess poll? I only see one similarity between Campbell and Reed and, unfortunately, that’s the only thing you would look at, isn’t it?

The Real Politico

April 25th, 2010
1:46 pm

I suppose Chris would rather have no transportation bill and Marta making Draconian cuts in service.
Must be nice in that gas-guzzling car.

The Real Politico

April 25th, 2010
1:48 pm

Byron Mathison Kerr-The reason Marta is not in other counties is although those counties wanted to be on the board they did not want Marta and voted not to allow it in.
Know your facts.

LaShondra

April 25th, 2010
6:28 pm

It’s pretty tough when the Mayor of Atlanta won’t let the democrats play politics instead of legislate for the good of Atlanta. It’s a dirty lilttle secret but the metro Atlanta democrats have been a lot mored interested in being demogogues than in finding good policy for the voters. They have been performing shamefully for years and no one will tell the truth about their games.

The hypocricy of the metro Atlanta democrats is bottomless.

Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SuperUGLY"

April 25th, 2010
8:02 pm

mike

April 25th, 2010
8:07 am
“It’s public transportation! No one is going to pay 3.00 to 5.00 to take the MARTA. Public transportation should be funded by the state.
Now, if Reed can only make downtown a more vibrant destination he will have my vote for a second term,”

Mike, I disagree. Commuters will pay substantially higher fares if MARTA provides them with SUBSTANTIALLY BETTER service, a “top-notch” level of service that includes CLEAN, SAFE and SECURE buses, trains, cable cars and trolleys that run every 5-10 minutes during rush hours and every 7-20 minutes during off-peak and overnight hours. Raising fares to a level of that found in many other major cities would help provide MARTA (or most likely a successor agency that would replace MARTA) with the funds necessary to increase the frequency of service and expansion of its geographical reach to serve more locations throughout the entire metro area.

Frequent riders and other special groups (like senior citizens, handicapped and disabled riders, students, etc) would receive steep discounts (on special passes for seniors and the disabled and on weekly, monthly and yearly passes for frequent riders and users, etc…the longer the pass, the steeper the discount). D.C.’s Metro uses a type of zone-pricing system on its subway system, but the fares aren’t priced by distance, but by popularity of its stations. In the busiest station in the system, Foggy Bottom, fares were as high as $4.00 one-way to enter the system from that particular station and that was over a decade ago. With so many discounts to frequent riders and special groups, the group that would actually end up paying the higher fare rate would be tourists, but keep-in-mind that $3 and $4 fares are very common in other major cities.

In my earlier comments suggesting an increase in fares to a level that would actually help support the maintenance, operation and expansion of MARTA, I also suggested that a change in managerial structure might help the system function better and serve its riders and the metro area much more effectively. Right now, MARTA itself doesn’t seem to have its own vision for accomplishing that (raising fares to raise money for expansion, an unwillingness to lobby and network with state legislators and local officials in the metro area, etc).

willy

April 25th, 2010
12:46 pm
“@ Mike. Exactly right. Especially with the poor services MARTA currently offers (with threats of it getting worse unless they get more money), not many people would opt for $10 round trips across town. MARTA’s biggest problem is that they make their service less and less convenient, not more so. The best way to increase revenue will always be to increase ridership”

The best way to increase revenue is to increase the quality and and amount of service available and one of the only options to do that would be to increase fares to levels that would help to do just that. If MARTA or a successor agency were to raise fares to increase the quality and amount of service then MARTA would have to effectively convey to the public why they were doing so and their vision for what kind of lofty goals they exactly intended to accomplish by doing so.

Right now, that type of leadership is just not available, not only at MARTA, but at the state and local levels of governance also. MARTA management just very recently started tepidly lobbying the Georgia General Assembly last year. MARTA still doesn’t even bother to even show up and voice critical opinions at legislative sessions and doesn’t have too much of a warm relationship with Atlanta City Hall, either, much less local officials throughout the metro area.

There’s plenty more blame to pass around. In state government, there have been and still are too many politicians who still are too skeptical about the usefulness of mass transit to invest any meaningful time, money, effort or planning to incorporate it into Georgia’s future. City of Atlanta and other metro officials often overlook or ignore the usefulness and importance of incorporating mass transit into any of their development plans. With so many parties that have had no vision and lackluster relationships with each other, its easy to see how Atlanta and Georgia have gotten into this transportation mess and ended up where we are now.

Which would you rather have, higher fares and tons more service or lower fares and NO service?

Mike

April 26th, 2010
12:12 am

I have spent the past few mos. in Toronto where fares cost $3. BUT… people get MUCH more service for their money. The subway goes to more of the city, and nearly every major street is served by a bus line. Most buses run every 5 or 10 minutes, and there aren’t any huge areas of the city (like the upper NW portion of the city between 41 and Roswell) where there’s no sidewalks and no bus service. I’d gladly see MARTA raise fares if people got more for it.

Iconoclast

April 26th, 2010
8:01 am

Two years ago, when Mr. Reed was my State Senator, I queried him at a neighborhood meeting for thoughts on the seemingly futile transportation funding quagmire imposed by the body politic. His response was largely one of incredulity and I lost hope that he was going to be much of a champion for advancing the ball to the goal. As a result, he failed to gain my confidence for a vote as Mayor.

I’m really thrilled to learn he seems to know how to expend political capital and think Mayor Reed’s leadership bodes watching. If he knows how to supplant the partisan divide that’s holding everyone hostage these days, maybe – just maybe – Atlanta can really expect to see bigger things from our native son.

firstborn40

April 26th, 2010
8:11 am

if public transportation is to not only survive but thrive we as a residents of this city have to get behind it and force our elected official employees to vote the way of the good, not the way of the party. we have all said it one way or the other here…use the vote the way it was suppose to be used…july 20th is the day – let’s let our officials know they don’t get another free ride…there are some real issues on the table that involves the betterment of the state and this city.

marta is an important part of this city whether you ride it or not…most of the larger cities have 24 hour public transporation. marta and ithe city may have had problems in the past, it’s time to get past that and make atlanta the city we say it is…we used to be too busy to hate…now we are to busy to even care!

let’s stop with the great divide…there is no longer a place in society for hate and hate mongling. when one benefits, we all do, and that is the making of a society that is inclusive and not devisive.

see you at the polls!

oldfart

April 26th, 2010
8:31 am

I’m usually not a big proponent of higher taxes but do believe that they should be implemented to best support the specific need. Transportation funds should be raised by higher taxes on gasoline and diesel not overall sales taxes. Let those that use the roads the most pay for them and help defray the cost of not using them by helping to subsidize public transportation. Georgia has one of the lowest gasoline taxes around. Why?

Don

April 26th, 2010
8:46 am

MARTA, is to some extent, it’s own worse enemy. The Breeze card system has been in place and working pretty well for over a year. A zone fare system to improve revenue is long overdue. A ride from Doraville to the Airport is certainly worth a lot more than $2, but a ride from Arts Station 5 points is worth considerably less. If MARTA had a management had part of their pay put a risk based on overall system performance where one of the measurements was “farebox recovery” (percent of operating costs covered by fares), a zone fare structure would have been in place by now. Other things I’d measure MARTA’s mgt on, and reward for improvement, would be “on time performance”, “customer service”, “cleanliness and comfort” and “safety”.

Morrus

April 26th, 2010
9:01 am

Vote out the incumbents and start over

Georgia Voter

April 26th, 2010
10:26 am

Small point here… the caption below the picture is wrong. There is no way that elevator is in the state capitol (unless about 30 floors have been added to it). Look at how many elevator buttons are on the wall of the elevator.

[...] thing not addressed in Sunday’s column on the transportation funding bill was the overhaul of the MARTA board – a topic that has received very little [...]

Intown

April 26th, 2010
12:35 pm

Someone please end this General Assembly session. Atlanta needs its Mayor to run its own City … not clean up after the State’s mess.

shirley

April 27th, 2010
10:31 pm

Mayor Reed did a great job. Also congratulations to Sam WIlliams, the Chamber board and the Chamber leadership who have left no stone unturned in the last decade to advance a new transportation funding plan. The difference this year – the mayor’s legislative prowess AND Governor Perdue’s leadership on the issue. For several years the Atlanta Regional Commission members have been ready to support a new funding model. Now Atlanta has a chance to match federal grants funding for the Peachtree Streetcar and Beltline transit along with MARTA operations and the other regional partners have similar hopes I’m sure.
If I have a disappointment with the legislative session, it is the cavalier attitude of the lawmakers toward public safety with the passage of reckless concealed gun legislation.

Roads should be No 1 in Ga

April 29th, 2010
12:12 am

Road Scholar, I agree so much, The gas tax is so cheap its not funny. The highest being 37 cents a gallon and ours 7 cents. We don’t think we could go up a nickel? Atlanta bleeds money and not in a bad way, Drive thru Buckhead and North Atlanta, there are more excutive branches of companies here then anywhere in the united states. Why IT’S CHEAP to Live here, but we have the worst gridlock in the United States, why because its cheap to live here and everybody wants everything for free. Roads cost MONEY. If you want to stay ahead and keep the infranstructure up you have to have cash to pay for it. And keep the politicians out of it,

[...] percent of the sales tax revenue on operating costs, with the rest going to capital improvements. No other transit agency in the state has this restriction. And according to the Brookings Institution, operating expenses are generally [...]