An Atlanta city councilman's effort to find a new way to pay for new police cars, firetrucks and other public safety needs passed one hurdle Monday, but the biggest test is yet to come.
The City Council voted 13-0 in favor of a plan drafted by Councilman Michael Julian Bond to create a penny-per-dollar sales tax to fund public safety improvements, which are estimated at $287.5 million. But the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which is often allergic to new taxes, must allow the bill to come before Atlanta voters in a referendum. It's estimated the tax would collect about $100 million a year.
One leading Republican, state Rep. Ed Lindsey of Atlanta, said in an interview that he has several concerns about the idea. Lindsey's primary concern is he doesn't believe the legislation is specific enough. He fears some of the money will be used for other purposes.
"That's how government works," said Lindsey, the House majority whip.
Bond said the legislation outlines that the funds would be specifically used for vehicles and equipment. The councilman said he would meet with Lindsey and anyone else necessary to get the legislation passed at the Capitol.
"We have an obligation to provide safety and make sure our citizens are safe," Bond said.
State Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), chairman of the Fulton County delegation to the Legislature, said Monday that he is willing to help the city as long as the council's idea is thoroughly researched.
Another state lawmaker, Rep. Wendell Willard, a Republican from Sandy Springs, said he is worried about the impact an increase in the city's sales tax rate would have on low-income families. The city's sales tax rate is currently 8 percent. State lawmakers are considering an idea that could allow local governments to impose a penny-per-dollar sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.
"This would be a tough burden put on people who are probably the poorest," Willard said of the city's proposal.
State Rep. Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta) said he also plans to meet with Lindsey, agreeing his support is critical to getting the bill passed. Taylor, who was deputy campaign manager to Mayor Kasim Reed, said he is "intrigued" by the idea because it may be a revenue source that could free up other city funds to pay for more police officers.
"The city doesn't have many options to raise revenue," Taylor said.
Reed must sign the legislation before it goes to the state Capitol. Mayoral spokesman Reese McCranie said the mayor wants to study the measure before deciding whether he'll sign or veto it.
Bond hopes the tax could go into effect in 2012, when a 1 percent sales tax that currently goes to Atlanta Public Schools ends. Keith Bromery, a spokesman for the city school district, said the district hasn't decided whether it has an interest in continuing the tax.
Staff Writer Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this article.
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