Published on June 22nd, 2016 |0
Council OKs Nov. 8 vote on new half-penny tax to expand MARTA
The City Council action was to schedule a Nov. 8 referendum for Atlanta voters to decide on a proposed half penny sales tax increase, which would raise an estimated $2.5 billion through 2057 to finance a mix of projects inside the city limits.
MARTA board Chairman Robbie Ashe said the improvements and expansions have a chance to connect and transform Atlanta. “This is the most important vote MARTA’s faced in 40 years,” Ashe said.
Residents get to make the big decision: whether the plans are worth a half-penny rise in sales tax, which would also add to an existing 1 percent MARTA sales tax city residents already pay, raising their overall sales tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent.
A light-rail system connecting the Beltline loop as well as Midtown, Southwest Atlanta and downtown is one of the major proposed improvements. MARTA also proposes extending the heavy-rail Blue Line westward.
The plan calls also for the building of rail stations at Murphy Crossing, Boone and Armour Circle (in south Buckhead). Meanwhile, existing stations would receive rehabilitation, maintenance and additional signage.
The focus with bus transportation is to add rapid transit routes while also increasing frequency for local routes. Bus services would include on Cascade Road, Campbellton Road, Metropolitan Parkway and Peachtree Road. Transit centers where drivers can park buses could also be added at Greenbriar Mall and Moores Mill.
However, not all of the proposed projects would be built with the additional revenue, Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, warned her colleagues before Monday’s vote.
“There are more projects on the list than funds,” she said. “The list is a starting point.”
Ashe agreed, stating the proposed projects are more a menu of options than a definite list. While some of the choices are more crucial than others, Ashe said MARTA officials will work with the public to see what it wants.
If voters pass the half-penny sales tax, Ashe said they can expect changes in bus routes first. Aside from running more frequently to increase circulation, MARTA wants to use smaller buses in some areas for more flexibility and longer ones in some to carry more passengers.
Other projects such as the light-rail system could take five to 10 years to complete.
In July, the council will take up a potential second referendum for a transportation sales tax – or TSPLOST – to fund bike trails, sidewalk and road projects for five years. If voters approve another half-penny for the TSPLOST along with approving the MARTA tax, that would increase the city’s
sales tax to 9 percent – the highest in the state.
Councilmember Felicia Moore said she voted for the MARTA tax referendum, but said the “sales tax is regressive.” She said many of her constituents depend on MARTA to get to work and shopping, so expanding the system would help, while the sales tax will hurt.
“The poorest among are the ones being the most hurt by it,” Moore said. “The new way of funding projects is to ratchet up sales tax. People who are dependent on MARTA don’t have an option to go somewhere else with a lower sales tax to buy goods and services.”
Other council members and some Atlanta business leaders also have raised concerns about a 9 percent sales tax and suggested the council consider seeking less than a half penny for the second referendum.
But Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said he prefers going with a full-penny transportation tax increase in order to take advantage of a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to put significant resources toward vitally needed transportation improvements.
MARTA a $30 million winner Wednesday, too
Meanwhile, MARTA was not left out of the winner’s circle Wednesday as Gov. Nathan Deal announced the split of funds from a $75 million pot of state transportation money, with the transit agency receiving the largest single allocation of $30 million.
MARTA’s money was awarded to improve public address and electronic passenger information systems at all of the system’s 38 rail stations. The State Road and Tollway Authority is administering the program.