MARTA Rail Expansion Half Penny Passes Senate Committee
(APN) ATLANTA — Transit funding just got a boon, as SB 330, sponsored by State Sen. Brandon Beach (R – Alpharetta) passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, February 18, 2016, by a vote of eight to three.
The committee had to move rooms twice in order to accommodate the large crowd, and heard testimony from various community groups as well as Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May.
Sen. Beach’s bill would creates an optional tax, up to one half penny, that Fulton County, Clayton County, DeKalb County, and the City of Atlanta can put before voters in the form of a referendum this fall.
“It’s not a new tax, it’s flexing up to half that penny out of HB 170 for transit,” Sen. Beach told the committee.
A possible TSPLOST tax of up to one penny was created as part of HB 170, the big transportation funding bill from last year, 2015.
A TSPLOST would also have to go before voters to be implemented.
While Beach’s bill technically could result in a new tax, it won’t raise the tax rate above the one cent cap created by HB 170.
“I think this conversation today is strictly about allowing the people–whether you support it or you’re against–to make their vote and voice heard through a referendum,” Interim CEO May said.
Similar sentiments–let the people vote on this–were voiced multiple times during the hour and half long hearing.
Folks speaking in favor of the bill mentioned economic development, attracting millennials, and improving property values.
Detractors expressed concerns that there is not enough information to make an informed decision.
“To date, no independent study outside MARTA has been done to actually determine what the benefit would be. When you are spending eight billion dollars, you’ve got to be prudent,” Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle said in testimony.
“I am not against MARTA… There is a role for transit, but what is that? Is it light rail, heavy rail, BRT (bus rapid transit), additional busses?” Belle Isle said.
“It is regressive for low income riders,” Baruch Feigenbaum, Assistant Director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation and Senior Fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, added, referring to the use of sales tax as a funding mechanism for transit.
The testimony was overwhelmingly supportive of SB 330, though.
“Study after study tells us that millennials… want easy access to their place of employment, and want to spend free time with their friends and families engaged in recreational activities, rather than enduring lengthy commutes,” Betty Willis, President of the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association, said during testimony.
“We need to invest in expanding access to public transportation to maintain our competitive edge,” Willis said.
Testimony also touched on the positive impacts to property values and economic development that come with investing in transit.
“Properties in close proximity to transit experience property value increases of up to 150 percent once developed,” Ann Miller Hanlon, speaking on behalf of the Council for Quality Growth, said.
“In Fulton and DeKalb Counties, 94 percent of all office developments currently under construction are located within a half mile of transit,” Hanlon said.
The yeas were from State Sens. Beach, Gloria Butler (D – Stone Mountain), Rules Chair Jeff Mullis (R – Chickamauga), Valencia Seay (D – Riverdale), Burt Jones (R – Jackson), Floor Leader Mike Dugan (R – Carrollton), Bill Jackson (R – Appling), and Ben Watson (R – Savannah).
The nay votes came from State Sens. Lindsey Tippins (R – Marietta), John Albers (R- Roswell), and Bill Heath (R -Bremen).
President Pro Tempore David Shafer (R – Duluth) abruptly left the room towards the end of the meeting and did not vote.
The bill must go before the Senate Rules committee, before it can go to the floor for a vote.