Cobb punts transit referendum to 2024

Cobb County won't hold a transit referendum until at least 2024, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said. (Courtesy of Cobb County)

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Cobb County won't hold a transit referendum until at least 2024, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said. (Courtesy of Cobb County)

Cobb County won’t pursue a sales tax to fund transit projects until 2024, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, citing a lack of support among fellow commissioners for her plan to hold a voter referendum this fall.

The board of commissioners was expected to vote on whether to hold the referendum as soon as this week. But while the board has a 3-2 Democratic majority that’s generally in favor of expanding transit, there was not clear support among the group for moving the measure to the ballot this fall.

At the board’s planning retreat earlier this month, Cupid tried to sell the idea of a November 2022 vote, saying that Cobb’s political window to invest in transit was rapidly shrinking. One Democratic commissioner could be drawn out of her seat via redistricting, and an infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year means there’s more federal money available than usual for local governments seeking to complete ambitious transit projects.

“Part of my thinking for pushing forward is that we’ve been delaying for 50 years now,” said Cupid, a Democrat from South Cobb. “I didn’t want to be another chair doing the same thing.”

But, she added: “I can’t put the referendum on the ballot by myself, nor can I get the majority of voters to support it by myself. This is a team effort.”

At the retreat, other commissioners said they were worried the effort would fail if it was rushed to the ballot too soon. The board hasn’t finalized a project list for the 30-year sales tax, and is already facing a busy spring with three cityhood elections in May and budget negotiations that have to be completed by July.

Cupid said she also met with city mayors, transportation consultants and community leaders this month, and not enough people were motivated to mount a public campaign to earn voter approval this year.

For transit supporters, there are a few silver linings to a 2024 referendum. Turnout should be high, because it would share a ballot with the presidential election. DeKalb and Gwinnett are considering referendums of their own, and if all three go to the ballot at once, it could be easier to sell voters on a regional transit plan.

While the delay gives the county more time to solicit public input on its transit plans, it also gives backers of a separate transportation sales tax another chance to rally political support.

The commission’s two Republicans prefer to ask voters for a 5-year sales tax that would fund surface transportation projects, such as roads and sidewalks. Cupid opposes the surface transportation tax, saying that voters are unlikely to agree to two sales tax hikes.