Legislators consider transportation, education

Even if the regional transportation referendum scheduled for July 2012 passes, it will likely face a legal challenge and wind up being decided in the courts afterward, legislators said at a panel discussion Tuesday morning.

The referendum, mass transit reform, charter schools and property tax reform were among the issues raised by the panel of local elected officials and legislators, who discussed what they would like to see in the next legislative session in January. Among the speakers were Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, and Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson.

Some opponents have said the transportation referendum is unconstitutional, arguing that if a region's voters approve it, no county would be able to opt out of the region and its tax. Sheldon said that different lawyers have different opinions on that issue.

The discussion centered most on transportation and education, especially about preparations for the referendum.

Sheldon chairs a task force that is drawing up legislation to better coordinate metro Atlanta's patchwork of mass transit agencies. That legislation will likely create an umbrella agency over local transit operators such as MARTA and Cobb Community Transit, she said.

Getting the mass transit legislation passed and structured correctly is "going to be a big piece of how people react to the vote," Johnson said.

The panelists disagreed about changing the referendum's date from the July primary to the November general election, an effort that failed in a special session this summer.  Sheldon and Rogers support it, but Johnson said it could create distrust among voters.