State Resolutions Address Public Transit, Tax Allocation Districts

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This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor

(APN) ATLANTA — Advocates for public transportation and the environment are lobbying Georgia lawmakers to adopt two resolutions that could provide more state funding for public transit projects throughout Metro Atlanta and the State, and lead to the reinstatement of Tax Allocation Districts (TADs) after a recent Constitutional challenge.

TRANSIT FUNDING BILL, SR 845

The first bill, SR 845, would amend the Georgia Constitution “so as to provide for an up to 1 percent local option sales and use tax for a specified period of time to fund transportation purposes on a regional basis,” according to the language of the bill.

These transit projects include, but are not limited to, public transit, buses, freight and passenger rail, bridges, roads, airports, seaports, and “all accompanying infrastructure and services necessary to provide access to these transportation facilities.”

These transportation purposes may also include capital outlays, such as costs of land acquisition, trains, and tracks; and maintenance expenses, such as repairs and mechanical upkeep.

The Georgia House amended the resolution March 27, 2008, to include operations costs, which the original draft did not include and that many supporters of the bill wanted.

“The word ‘operations’ has been really sensitive down at the capitol, [but] the Sierra Club is supporting funding for operations… We want to ensure operations are covered by any regional transit bill,” Erin Glynn of the Sierra Club’s Regional Action to Improve Livability (RAIL) campaign told Atlanta Progressive News.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) added an amendment making clear that all funds created by the new tax be used for “all transportation purposes.”

This language is included to ensure no transportation mode could be exempted later from the new funds. Glynn said.

“If people are going to tax themselves… we want to make sure mass transit is an option,” Porter said March 17 at a rally at the State Capitol.

The State House approved SR 845 as amended March 27, 2008, and it is currently in consideration in Conference Committee.

TAX ALLOCATION DISTRICTS, SR 996

Another resolution, SR 996, would amend the State Constitution so as to authorize community redevelopment and allow counties, municipalities, and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment purposes and programs, including the payment on debt service on tax allocation bonds.

The 6,500 acre BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD), created in 2005 with support from the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Public School Board, and the Fulton County Commission, was expected to generate $1.7 billion over 25 years for the BeltLine project.

The Fulton Superior Court validated the TAD on January 23, 2008, but the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the ruling weeks later.

The Georgia Supreme Court specifically held that funding plans like the BeltLine’s violate the Educational Purpose Clause of Georgia’s Constitution, which, in effect, prevents the inclusion of school district tax increment for these types of projects.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Atlanta Housing Authority requested over $95 million in TAD funds from the City of Atlanta on April 09, 2007, to support the “mixed-income” housing developers will build to replace demolished public housing.

When AHA is arguing it has insufficient funds to maintain public housing, many housing activists argue the City of Atlanta should be helping to improve public housing, instead of spending $95 million in subsidizing developments to include mostly units at or near market rate.

The Senate approved SR 996 on March 4, 2008, by a vote of 46-3 and the House Committee on Judiciary favorably reported it on March 27, 2008.

If the Georgia General Assembly approves the resolutions, Georgia citizens would have to ratify the amendments in November.

“We’re very confident if given the choice, local governments are going to choose to use [this new] money to fund public transit,” Rob Thompson, an advocate with the Georgia Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), said March 17.

Other advocates with groups like the Sierra Club, Citizens for Progressive Transit (CFPT), and the Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers (GARP) lobbied lawmakers March 17 to support the resolutions.

These groups are calling for more of all types of public transit, including buses, trains, trams, trolleys (Peachtree Streetcar), people movers, light rail (Beltline), commuter rail (Macon to Atlanta, Atlanta to Athens), and heavy rail (MARTA).

“These alternatives fuel walkable communities,” Lee Biola, president of CFPT, said. “A balanced transit system helps Georgia live up to its potential.”

COMMUTER RAIL PROPOSALS

The Lovejoy to Atlanta line and the Athens to Atlanta “Brain Train” are two examples of proposed commuter rail projects that could become part of a seven-line regional commuter rail network.

The estimated cost for such a network is $3.6 billion in 2005 dollars, according to the Georgia Rail Passenger Program.

On the other hand, the “big dig” north-south underground toll road, proposed by former Georgia DOT chairman David Doss, would cost an estimated $25 billion, according to a joint report from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Reason Foundation, and the Gavin Mobility Project.

The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) estimates Atlanta will need 275 highway lane miles each year just to maintain current levels of congestion.

A trip on commuter rails could be a viable alternative for citizens looking to save time and money.

For example, a commuter rail trip from Jonesboro to Atlanta could reduce a commuter’s travel time from 43 minutes by car to 36 minutes by rail, according to the Georgia DOT. While rush hour drive time between these two destinations is expected to increase to 60 minutes by 2030, the rail time would still be faster at 36 minutes.

The cost of driving between Atlanta and Lawrenceville, 52.2 cents per mile roundtrip, totals $33.41, according to AAA. For riders with a monthly pass, the projected cost of a commuter rail round trip between Atlanta and Lawrenceville would be $10.80.

Atlanta is one of three US cities listed in the top 10 most populous U.S. metro areas that do not have commuter rail service. Smaller cities like Miami, Nashville, and San Diego have such a service.

BELTLINE

Proposals like the BeltLine and the Peachtree Street Car would tie together Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods.

The BeltLine is a 22-mile transit loop inside the City of Atlanta that would connect with MARTA train lines at four stops. It is expected to cost $2.8 billion over 25 years with funding from local, state, and federal money as well as private philanthropic donations.

While the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on the BeltLine TAD was disappointing to proponents, they remain undeterred in bringing the project to reality.

“We are disappointed in this ruling, but we remain focused on the BeltLine vision,” a statement on beltline.org reads. “And we will continue working without interruption with our staffs and public and private partners toward its fulfillment using alternative funding sources — as we have for the last 16 months.”

In addition to cleaning up contaminated properties and creating 1,200 acres of greenspace, the Beltline is expected to generate $20 billion of economic development, 30,000 new full-time jobs, and 48,000 year long construction jobs.

Housing activists, on the other hand, have numerous concerns about the Beltline. They argue that housing costs near the Beltline will continue to increase, gentrifying the areas. A recent report from Georgia Tech University shows property values have already increased just based on speculation about the Beltline.

Moreover, many existing voucher-leasing opportunities for displaced public housing residents in Southwest and Southeast Atlanta are near Beltline development. Attorney Lindsay Jones has argued many landlords may not renew vouchers once their property values go up.

Anita Beaty of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, sees a strong connection between the Beltline and public housing demolitions. She believes public housing is being demolished to make way for the Beltline and its nearby development.

PEACETREE STREETCAR

A streetcar on Peachtree Street is part of the larger 25-year vision for the Peachtree Corridor. The Peachtree Corridor spans 16.5 miles, from Club Drive in the north to Lee Street in the south, with another 2.35 miles as an east-west circular loop through downtown Atlanta, according to The Peachtree Corridor Partnership.

The vision is to create a Peachtree Street with wider sidewalks, new parks, and more inviting public places. The streetcar would help people take short trips down the corridor, with proposed stops every quarter mile.

In the first phase of this project, the streetcar would run between Downtown and Midtown and connect Auburn and Edgewood Avenues to Peachtree with a “downtown loop circulator.”

The streetcar would connect with the BeltLine right-of-way and the MLK Historic Site on the east side of downtown and would reach Centennial Park, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Aquarium on the west side.

The estimated cost of the first phase is $200 million and the Peachtree Corridor Partnership is recommending the City of Atlanta create a special assessment district along the corridor in Midtown and Downtown that would raise property taxes by about three mills, or around 7 percent.

The Peachtree Corridor Partnership hopes this first phase can be completed with local dollars in order to demonstrate the streetcar’s viability, which could lead to federal funding and an expansion of the whole system.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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