There's been a lot of big talk surrounding new proposals for MARTA rail expansions over the course of the year. Some highlights/lowlights include: "$8 billon project," "not in my city," "bunch of racists," yada yada yada. But one voice has been peculiarly absent, for the most part: that of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. By his own account that silence was intentional, though the why of it (letting the puppies play before the big dog steps in the ring, not wanting to step on already-timid toes, or just assuming everyone knew already) is open to speculation. Whatever the reason, the silence is broken, and guess what! He's all in on supporting MARTA.
The transit authority's head honchos have been making their case to anyone that will listen that the institution has made a dramatic turnaround from near-bankruptcy to financial solvency. MARTA CEO Keith Parker discussed the transportation agency's progress since he joined in 2012 at a meeting of the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber. According to Neighbor Newspapers, Parker said he and his team have taken the agency to having a more than $200 million budget surplus, and that in 2015, the agency netted over $35 million. They also upgraded their credit rating and were ranked the second safest of the 10 major public transportation agencies in the nation.
Following those successes, MARTA officials are looking to expand rail service and, like every previous expansion discussion, the major hurdle to jump is finding funding. The biggest would-be slice on the table is an addition to the authority's current tax allocation which has been a one-penny sales tax since 1971, according to Saporta Report. The big sticking point is a state cap on the sales tax rate at 8 cents. Fulton County's current rate is 7 cents, and the county's mayors can't agree on what percentage — if any — MARTA should get if an increase goes through.
If the county were to go for a full penny, it would box out funding in Fulton and DeKalb counties that would be a huge chunk of proposed expansion money. Roswell Mayor Jere Wood argued for the county and its cities to take half-penny bumps, giving MARTA the opportunity to go after its own half-penny. Fulton Commission Chairman John Eaves has previously supported going for three-quarters of a penny for the county, allowing MARTA to ask for a quarter-penny. Other mayors — notably Mike Bodker of John's Creek — favored a full penny for the county and cutting out rail expansion entirely.
Now Reed has stepped in with his own position. "I think the general direction around the city pursuing a half-cent sales tax is a good direction, which would leave MARTA with the ability to pursue a half-cent sales tax," Reed said, according to Saporta Report. He added that he thought the Beltline plan, which includes a vision for expanding the Atlanta Streetcar, would have a better opportunity receiving long-term funding under the MARTA plan. "That would probably be a better fit under a 40-year scenario."
· Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed favors half-cent sales tax for MARTA [Saporta]
· Could $8 Billion Vision for MARTA become Reality? [Curbed]
· MARTA CEO says agency needs more sales tax dollars to fund projects [Neighbor Newspapers]
· Latest, Greatest MARTA Dream Map Could Actually Happen [Curbed]
· Atlanta Streetcar Plan Approval May Not Matter Much [Curbed]