By Maria-Jose Subiria
Public transportation and economic development top the concerns of members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation as they prepare for the 2011 session of the Georgia General Assembly which convenes in January.
The lawmakers were among the 150 people, including business and community leaders, attending the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "SunTrust Early Bird Breakfast" gathering Thursday morning.
State Rep. Glenn Baker (D-Jonesboro) said he believes a solution to bringing back public transportation to the county is HB 277 (The Georgia 2020 Transportation Act).
The bill would allow taxpayers to vote in July, 2012, to approve their region's transportation projects list, and a one percent sales tax to fund the projects.
According to Baker, there is close to $2 billion in taxes that the state has not collected, for various reasons, a portion of which could potentially fund future transportation initiatives, including public transportation in Clayton County.
State Representative-elect Gloria Bromell Tinubu (D-Atlanta), an economist and a former candidate for mayor of Atlanta, said Clayton County is an ideal location for public transportation, because it has a small "geographic foot" and a large population.
Tinubu said the removal of public transportation in the county has had a boomerang effect on economic development, which has not been a positive for the county.
"It is heartbreaking to see [the elderly] walking with a grocery bag on one hand, and a [walking] cane on the other," said State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale). "Ninety 90 percent of this county has no sidewalks or street lights. Clayton County residents, and individuals from outside the county, used the C-Tran bus system to get to their jobs and education facilities, such as Clayton State University," she added.
"People can't get to these jobs that are available," Tinubu interjected.
"A legislative session is for making and passing laws, putting them in place and on the governor's desk ready for him to sign within 40 days," said Representative-elect Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro). "Whatever legislation that is not handled can be addressed in the next session, the next year."
Other state lawmakers at the session included: Rep. Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), and Senator-elect Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro).
Jordan added that the county needs to make itself more pleasing to tourists and visitors, especially with the world's busiest airport in its own backyard. Sprucing up blighted areas, and having a well-managed public transportation system would bring more businesses and revenue to the county, he suggested.
"The airport [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] is so important," he said. "People want to get in and get out quietly, but we hope they would stop by Clayton and buy some gas here, but we have to make a better face for ourselves."
The 2011 Legislative Session begins on Jan. 11.