Monday, April 26, 2010

Transportation funding: I continue to see the glass as half empty

So the legislature finally passed a transportation funding bill.  You can get the details here, here, or here.  A map of the various regions is here (PDF).  Overall, I'm just glad that something passed, and I'm glad all the money stays in the region instead of going to build a highway to some rural politician's alpaca farm or something.

While probably not the most important aspect of the bill, the fact that MARTA got a three year reprieve on its 50% sales tax/capex spending limit is important.  Unless there is some reason that MARTA cannot use its reserves (or I am blatantly misreading their financial documents), the system should be able to fund services for the next year.  MARTA has enough weird rules and legislative stipulations that it is very possible there is some reason its reserves can't be dipped into, but I haven't heard of any reason why not.  MARTA still has a long way to go before it is out of the woods, but this is good news.

I also want to make the point that a regional 1% sales tax is really only enough for metro Atlanta to just keep up.  We are so far behind many of our competitors that this bill only brings us up to par.

Consider also that the sales tax only lasts for 10 year before it has to be renewed - will this qualify us for  dedicated funding for federal transit grants?  Forget transit grants - could a region feel confident in establishing a transit service if funding has to go for a vote ever 10 years, not to mention pass a regional political gauntlet to make it on the list?  How many transit projects will we get passed when our region include Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, and Rockdale?  We might be surprised, of course.

One big plus is that 15% of the sales tax will go to local governments instead of regional projects (this is actually more for non-metro Atlanta regions).  For a bill that is supposed to generate $750 to $790 million a year in the Atlanta region alone, thats no chump change - $112.5 to $118.5 million.  If Atlanta gets 1/10 of that, it'd be $11-12 million/year - on top of whatever Atlanta-related projects the region elects to perform.

As long as this thing doesn't end up funding a zombie underground toll road, I'll be pleased.

2 comments:

  1. I'm sure this sounds paranoid, but I've avoided reading the details of the bill and I've avoided starting any mental party over this because I'm just convinced some obstacle still remains (i.e., governor won't sign it or something).

    It's taken so long it just seems like something's bound to go wrong. But maybe when Gov. Perdue signs the bill, I'll begin to believe. Though it still needs to go for a referendum, right?

    http://atlantaunsheltered.com/

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  2. I think individual districts have their own referendums after local regions decide on a list of projects. And there is still a legal challenge out there, although folks say this will pass muster. I can't help but think about the recent TAD/school legal challenge issue that everyone I talked to said was going to be a breeze until the courts ruled against it.

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