Some Fulton County elected officials and Sandy Springs residents are predicting a special transportation sales tax may not pass next year unless the state Legislature takes action on MARTA.
“I don’t think the voters of Sandy Springs will be open to paying the tax unless something is done between now and that referendum to set up a program to address mass transit in whole,” Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) told residents attending a town hall meeting held at Holy Spirit Preparatory School on May 9. “We’ve carried the mass transit — MARTA — on our backs since 1970. We’re at the point where we’re not willing to do anything further.”
State lawmakers have scheduled votes in 2012 on a special 1-cent sales tax to be collected in multi-county regions to fund transportation projects. Mayors in DeKalb and Fulton counties have taken the position that their constituents shouldn’t pay that tax as long as MARTA continues to collect its own, separate 1-cent sales tax solely in the two counties.
On May 11, Fulton and DeKalb mayors met with legislators at Atlanta City Hall to discuss the transportation tax vote. The lawmakers and mayors agreed it would be difficult to get many Fulton and DeKalb voters to endorse the referendum without some sort of change in MARTA’s funding.
And, “if DeKalb and Fulton counties don’t support this overwhelmingly,” Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) said, “it will not pass.”
But elected officials from outside the two counties said residents of their areas might not be sympathetic to the Fulton and DeKalb complaints.
“In Gwinnett County, we pay two pennies,” Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson said, referring to special sales taxes for community improvements. “It’s not apples to apples. You’ve [Fulton and DeKalb Counties] got the infrastructure we don’t have.”
Mayors in attendance, including Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos, who helped organize the meeting, agreed to meet with county commissioners in the region to develop suggestions for how to handle collection and administration of the proposed sales tax.
“We do support the transportation governance to move forward sooner rather than later,” Galambos said of the limited time remaining for such a decision to be made.
Johnson, who chairs the regional transportation roundtable’s executive committee, which is compiling the list of projects to be funded through the sales tax, said community leaders from around the metro area were far from agreement about how a 1-cent sales tax should be administered.
Residents at the Sandy Springs town hall meeting also said problems with MARTA’s image might imperil the referendum. A recent attack on a MARTA train has scared many who might have used the system in the past, one resident said.
“MARTA is broken,” she said. “I understand it needs fixing, but until the fixing is done, we’re not paying any more.”
In the meeting at Atlanta City Hall, Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb County), who chairs the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee, said fundamental changes to the administration of the existing mass-transit system would be needed in order to incorporate it into a broader regional plan and would address other issues such as funding and safety.