Wed. Apr 08, 2009
Legislature and Governor Tell MARTA To Take A Train To Hell
The Georgia State Legislature has gone home for the year, and left Atlanta’s mass transit system dead in the water. Addressing this critical issue would not have cost a dime of state funding. MARTA has never taken state funding. All they had to do was pass one measly bill.
Services have already been cutback in many areas, and MARTA has said that a fare hike of 25 cents (total price, $2) is all but guaranteed. But there’s another more complex problem, one the legislature could have easily fixed. More than half of MARTA’s revenue comes from a 1% sales tax levied in Fulton and Dekalb Counties. And across the nation, sales tax revenues have plummeted, leaving MARTA with about a $20 million budget shortage.
Long ago when this tax was put in place, it had a restriction: 50% of the funds could be used for operating expenses, and 50% had to be used for capital improvements. At a time when the heavy rail system was still being planned and built out, this probably made good sense. 25 to 30 years later, not so much.
Thus, MARTA is faced with the conundrum of having about $65 million in the bank for expanding a system that is facing a $20 million annual shortfall in operating expenses, at its current size. It cannot touch that $65 million without a change in the law.
Our state legislature was too busy with their petty transportation feuds to even bring this bill to a vote. Now MARTA is faced with cutting service to the tune of $20 million. Since weekend service has already been slashed in previous cutbacks, they now say they may have to shut down on Fridays.
Imagine a Friday afternoon in late September. Friday afternoon rush hour, traditionally the worst of the week in Atlanta, is massively amplified by the fact all who normally take the train or bus must now drive on Friday. Or simply not go at all. College students at Georgia State University, Spelman, Emory, Morehouse and Georgia Tech. Employees who work in midtown and downtown. How many people are we talking about? Well, “For fiscal year 2006, the average weekday ridership was 451,064.” Furthermore, “More than half of all MARTA users say they use the system to commute to work.”
Now, add this. The Braves, still in the pennant race (hey, I’m a hopeful guy), have a big Friday afternoon game. 55,000 fans, the majority of whom normally take MARTA to the game, must now drive, or forfeit their ticket (the same thing will happen in 2 days to 60,000 Falcons fans). Suddenly you’ve thrown over a half million new car commuters into the Friday afternoon traffic jam (and I haven’t even mentioned the fact Atlanta is a convention town, and most of them start on Friday)
At which point business owners in Atlanta will roar about the sorry sacks of crap that show up to represent us in Georgia each year, and how they can’t even do the simplest thing in a down economy to help people get to work. At zero cost to them.
Now, some say we’ll have to call them back for a special session to deal with this. But Governor Sonny Perdue, the man who could order that, wants to avoid special session on MARTA: “The governor mentioned several times that MARTA made no effort to get him involved in passing legislation that would have freed up funding for the system.”
I see. The governor did not get a gold plated invitation to help the citizens of Georgia with a clear problem that has been in the news for weeks.
Gosh, I hope if a hurricane hits the coast this summer, someone thinks to call him, or else they may get told “they made no effort to get him involved,” and thus, will get no help.
On Wednesday, April 1st, two days before the end of the General Assembly’s 2009 session, the Fulton and DeKalb County delegations called a special meeting for the sole purpose of discussing MARTA. At that meeting, the Republican leadership approached the two counties with what they said was a deal. According to the Republican leader, they needed 20 votes to pass S.R. 1, an unpopular bill related to property valuation freezes.
We were told that we must support S.R. 1 in order to give the Republicans the votes they needed. In return, the MARTA bill would pass. If S.R 1 did not pass, we were told that the MARTA bill would die in committee and not be brought up for consideration before the end of sine die. The Republican leader said that he lives closer to Disney World than any MARTA train station, and that he only occasionally rides MARTA to ball games.
Rep. Long says he may be stripped of his committee positions for reporting this backroom news, but he doesn’t care. He thinks we have a right to know the petty partisan shenanigans that got us to this place.
Sorry sacks of crap, indeed.