By Joel Hall
Leaders on both sides of the C-TRAN public transportation debate have expressed concern that too many pennies on the dollar to fund public transit, might not be a good thing.
Monday night, during a Clayton County NAACP forum on the future of public transportation, Clayton County Commissioners Wole Ralph and Michael Edmondson, along with State Reps. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood) and Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) outlined their views on C-Tran funding, at the Forest Park gathering.
Ralph and Edmondson were among the county commissioners who voted last year to dismantle C-TRAN, because the county couldn't afford it.
Glanton and Abdul-Salaam were among the vocal members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation championing bills to provide local and regional options for funding public transportation.
Legislation now exists which allows Clayton to raise it's sales tax by 1 cent to fund public transit. In addition, the legislation allows entities within the 10-county metro region to do the same. Having both options utilized, however, would drive Clayton sales tax to 9 cents, making it one of the highest-taxed counties in the state.
Supporters, as well as opponents of C-TRAN bus service, agree a 9-cent sales tax would be bad for Clayton, and the recent legislation designed to help public transportation, must be amended to avoid that.
"We could go to 9 percent if the other counties support that plan [a regional sales tax to fund transportation]," Glanton said Monday. "Right now, the bill has no sunset. We're going to amend the bill, so that if the governor's bill goes into place ... this bill will cease."
If put into effect, Abdul-Salaam's House Bill 1393 would allow Clayton to generate $49 million for public transit in the county, by raising it's sales tax by one cent. However, an additional one-cent sales tax could be placed on Clayton if all metro counties agree to a regional sales tax to fund transit, a feature in the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 [also known as House Bill 277].
Ralph said that while he supports a regional-funding option for public transportation, he believes bringing Clayton's taxes to 9 percent would make the county economically unattractive. He said he would support a regional sales tax before a local one.
"If the [state] bill passes, we'll be at 9 percent, and everyone else will be at eight," Ralph said. "People have to buy stuff from Atlanta. They don't have to buy things in Clayton County. I am championing the governor's bill, because it allows us to be able to fund public transportation while still being competitive in the region. It kills our economic opportunity, unless it is something that everyone buys into."
Abdul-Salaam said the original version of House Bill 1393 included a sunset clause that would render the bill inactive if a regional transportation sales tax is implemented. However, the clause was left out of the final version of the bill adopted by the general assembly, she said.
"That was the intent from the beginning," Abdul-Salaam said. She said she would support amending the legislation to include a sunset clause, but believes the county should pursue a local sales tax increase, regardless of regional action.
"The regional bill won't work unless nine other counties agree," Abdul-Salaam said. "If one county doesn't agree to it, we don't get anything. Are we to sit on our laurels until then, and do nothing? There is more of an advantage, than a disadvantage."
Edmondson said some form of sales tax would be needed to fund public transportation. Until then, the county's hands are tied, he said.
"It's not that we didn't want public transportation, we just couldn't afford this one ... we simply don't have the funds to pay for it, and it could not pay for itself."