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Late signature delays MARTA referendum

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A non-binding referendum to see if Clayton County voters want to pay into the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) system will not come before voters until November, due to a late signature from the governor's office.

According to Clayton County Elections and Registration Director Annie Bright, a referendum to see if voters would like to pay a 1-cent sales tax to join MARTA will not be on the ballot for the July 20 primary election. She said Gov. Sonny Perdue's signing of House Bill 1446 -- a piece of local legislation that would enable the referendum -- took place after the county began the process of sending absentee ballots to military personnel.

"It didn't get here in time," Bright said. "The governor just signed that bill. We already started mailing out ballots to our military folks on Friday. It [the referendum] will be on the ballot in November."

Sponsored by State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, House Bill 1446 is a crucial side component to legislation found in House Bill 277 (the Georgia 2020 Transportation Act), which allows Clayton County to break a historic 7-percent sales tax cap for the purpose of funding public transportation.

Essentially, House Bill 1446 asks Clayton voters whether they want the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to utilize the law found in House Bill 277 to fund the operation of MARTA within the county. Clayton is one of the five original MARTA Act counties, but does not currently pay into the system.

According to Office of the Governor Spokesperson Chris Schrimpf, House Bill 1446 was signed into law on May 27, while House Bill 277 was just signed into law on Wednesday. He said intense consideration of the state budget this year extended the length of the 2010 legislative session and delayed the governor's review process for bills leaving the General Assembly.

"The session ran so late this year, so the review process started late as well," said Schrimpf. "The main reason was the budget. We wanted to have the most accurate figures we could before the end of the session. We don't typically sign legislation during the session. It's not something we want to rush, because we don't want there to be any unintended consequences. We take a thorough look at each piece of legislation, and, sometimes, that takes time."

Abdul-Salaam, who sponsored the county's public transportation legislation, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Bright said the non-binding referendum would appear on the Nov. 2 general election.

In any event, early voting for the July 20 primary will begin on Monday in Clayton County, according to Bright.

From Monday, June 7, to Friday, July 9, Clayton residents will be able to vote early at the Clayton County Elections and Registration Office, located at 121 South McDonough St., in Jonesboro.

Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8 a.m., and 5 p.m., registered voters will be able to cast their ballots, regardless of where they live in the county, she said. "You don't have to have a reason to vote early," Bright said. "You will have to provide one of the six photo IDs [identifications] required by the state."

From July 12 to July 16, she said, advance voting for the primary will open at six locations around the county. Those locations will be: The Clayton County Elections and Registration Office in Jonesboro; the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex; the Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro; the Lovejoy Branch Library in Hampton; the Morrow Municipal Complex Community Room; and the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale.

The Republican Party ballot for the primary will include the party question, "Do you support an amendment to the Georgia State Constitution so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the earliest biological beginning until natural death?"

The Democratic Party ballot will not include a party question, Bright said. The last day to register to vote in the primary election is June 21, according to Bright. Absentee ballots will be accepted until July 16, the Friday before the election, she said.

For more information, visit www.co.clayton.ga.us.