By John Sherman
The regional traffic gridlock during peak hours is negatively affecting the economic growth of the 11-county Atlanta region.
To overcome this most serious problem, the state’s Transportation Investment Act has created an Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to select transportation proposals to put before the region’s voters for the July 31, 2012 referendum on the 10-year one-penny sales tax. This tax will generate $7.2 billion with 15 percent going directly to local governments for discretionary investments, leaving $6.14 billion for improvements of regional impact.
The roundtable consists of county commission chairmen, a mayor from each county, the CEO of DeKalb County and the mayor of the city of Atlanta.
The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation strongly opposes this regional sales tax, in its present form, for the following reasons:
1. The need for a regional transit authority.
While the Transportation Investment Act created a Regional Transportation Roundtable, it did not create a much-needed Regional Transit Authority of highly qualified transportation planners and engineers that would identify the projects needed and would operate the total transportation system. A political roundtable is not a professional approach to the problem.
2. The use of the regional sales tax for city roads.
Funding of $658 million for the Atlanta Beltline should not be funded from the regional sales tax. This is not a regional project, but a city one supported by a Tax Allocation District, a special property tax district set up to provide money for the project. The Taxpayers Foundation is strongly opposed to using regional sales tax for any city Tax Allocation District.
3. The use of $500 million for deferred maintenance of MARTA.
Since 1972, the residents of Fulton and DeKalb Counties have been paying a one-penny sales tax for MARTA, which carries only 5 percent of the metro region’s commuters. Now, it is proposed that $500 million of the regional sales tax will go toward deferred maintenance of MARTA.
The Taxpayers Foundation feels that the use of $500 million of the regional sales tax is questionable: during the last 10 years, the regional population rose 20 percent while the public’s use of MARTA’s buses dropped 17 percent and the public’s use of MARTA’s rail dropped 6 percent. MARTA lost $508 million last year and has $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance. MARTA should be under a professional Regional Transit Authority. Why is the MARTA ridership declining and what could be done to increase the ridership and decrease the use of automobiles?
4. Additional funding.
The Taxpayers Foundation feels that the proposed one-penny regional sales tax will not cover the total cost of overcoming traffic gridlock in the region. An additional funding that should be considered is a “Vehicle Mile Travelled Tax,” a road-user tax based on the annual mileage of cars and trucks.
The 11-county Atlanta region desperately needs to implement a professional transportation plan to relieve the traffic gridlock and eliminate car-centered sprawl. However, the choice of the projects must be decided upon by professional planners and engineers, not by a political roundtable, and the funding must be sufficient to cover the region’s roads and bridges, buses and rails.
The Taxpayers Foundation supports a one-penny regional sales tax to fund regional transportation improvements provided neighboring metropolitan Atlanta counties join Fulton and DeKalb counties in forming a Regional Transit Authority and funding a regional transit system.
John Sherman is president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association.