Senate panel: Consider state funding for mass transit by 2018

The General Assembly could consider state funding for mass transit in 2018.

The General Assembly could consider state funding for mass transit in 2018.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported recently, the General Assembly may seek to consolidate the region's alphabet soup of transit agencies to improve service and efficiency. It's using the prospect of significant state funding for transit operations as an incentive.

On Thursday the Senate Study Committee on Regional Transit Solutions finalized its recommendations. The committee called for “an all-inclusive solution in the area of transit governance and funding” that could be enacted by the General Assembly in 2018. In the meantime, the committee recommended hiring a transit consultant work out the particulars and report back by the end of 2017.

There are many opinions about how a consolidated regional transit system might operate. Some say MARTA should operate the entire system. Others say existing agencies – including transit systems in Cobb and Gwinnett counties – should maintain their autonomy but improve coordination.

One idea that has been floated: MARTA would continue to serve Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties, with the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority or a similar agency providing commuter transit service in the rest of the region.

The committee report does not recommend a regional transit model. It says any model and state funding should be considered together. And it says lawmakers should seek a statewide solution.

The report also include several proposals requested by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. Among other things, ACCG has asked the state to:

*Allow counties that pass a fractional single-county transportation sales tax for less than 1 percent to hold a second referendum for the remaining balance before the existing tax expires. Currently, state law allows counties to have only one such tax at a time. The provision could pave the way for Fulton County – which approved a .75 percent tax for road and other transportation improvements in November – to hold a second referendum on a .25 percent tax for a MARTA expansion.

*Allow counties to collect any fractional sales tax portion dedicated to transit for up to 20 years. That would make it easier to make big capital investments and could pave the way for federal funding of local transit projects.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, the chairman of the study committee, said some transit measures could be enacted in the General Assembly’s 2017 session. But he said a comprehensive transit plan – including state funding – likely won’t come until 2018.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before anybody here will commit one way or another,” Gooch said. “But this is a good first step.”

You can read more about the General Assembly's study of transit issues here.