Governor confident Atlanta transit bill will reach his desk

Gov. Nathan Deal believes lawmakers will send a transit expansion bill to his desk.  BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Gov. Nathan Deal believes lawmakers will send a transit expansion bill to his desk. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal is confident state lawmakers will approve legislation paving the way for a dramatic expansion of mass transit in metro Atlanta.

The General Assembly is considering two bills – House Bill 930 and Senate Bill 386 – that would allow 13 metro Atlanta counties to impose sales taxes of up to 1 percent for transit expansion. The House bill would add potentially tens of millions of dollars from new state taxes, and lawmakers also are negotiating a transit bond that could provide substantially more.

“I hope they will be able to reconcile the differences. And there are a few, but they are not insurmountable differences,” Deal told Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein Monday. “So I have every reason to believe that there will be a piece of transit legislation coming to my desk.”

Deal's comments come as the General Assembly renews work on the transit bills. Both bills passed their respective houses by overwhelming margins last week. Now the House Transportation Committee will take up SB 386 beginning today; the Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on HB 930 Wednesday.

Both bills would establish a new board to oversee transit planning and construction across the region. The board would have to approve any county’s transit project list. The idea is to coordinate projects across county lines and create a regional transit system.

Under both bills, voters in each county would have to approve any transit sales taxes.

As the AJC recently reported, Cobb County's ambivalence to joining a regional transit system has complicated lawmakers' efforts to hash out the details of an expansion. Deal said each county and its taxpayers must decide whether they want to embrace a regional system. But he cited "an evolving attitude" about transit by some counties, which he called "a good thing."

"Cobb and Gwinnett, I think, are the two most likely candidates for addition and expansion of a rapid transit system," Deal said. "But, there again, that's going to come down to the politics of those counties and the wishes of the voters of those counties."