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Legislation raising sales tax cap for transit introduced

Mike Glanton

Mike Glanton

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Valencia Seay

ATLANTA — An old effort to revive public transportation in Clayton County underwent a resurrection of its own in the Georgia House of Representatives on Tuesday.

State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) has introduced House Bill 1009, which would give Clayton County voters a new period, until Nov. 1, in which they can elect to levy a 2 percent sales tax that would pay for mass transit. The bill mirrors 2010 legislation that gave voters until Nov. 1, 2012, to vote in a binding referendum to join MARTA.

The new bill gives voters until Nov. 1 of this year to vote in such a referendum. However, Clayton County’s commissioners — who are already pondering ways to pay for a return of mass transit — would have to call for a binding referendum to take place first, said Glanton.

It received its first read in the House Tuesday and was assigned to the chamber’s Transportation Committee.

“It gives the commissioners an opportunity to have another tool in their toolbox,” said Glanton. “Ultimately, the decision will be made by the residents of Clayton County.”

Mass transit in Clayton County, and a method by which it can be brought about, has been a key issue in the county since the old C-Tran bus system was shut down in 2010.

But Glanton’s legislation is also one of two pieces of legislation that would impact the transit situation in Clayton County. State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) introduced Senate Bill 284, which would give county governments the option to fund transit operations through special purpose local option sales tax funds, last month.

Funding shortfalls caused county commissioners to vote to disband C-Tran more than four years ago.

It also comes at a time when Clayton County is preparing to study the feasibility of public transportation. County leaders have expressed support for reviving mass transit, but there has been no agreement about how to bring it back. Among the options that have been considered are starting up a Clayton-only system or joining MARTA.

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners was set to vote Tuesday night on a budget amendment that would appropriate $148,200 for a transit feasibility study. Glanton said the legislation is intended to go hand-in-hand with the study. He said commissioners asked for this legislation to be introduced as part of local legislation requests they made two weeks ago.

“It’s just another option,” said Glanton. “It’s not option No. 1, option No. 2 or anything like that. It’s just another option and the commission, as was the case with the previous commission, has the decision to determine whether or not they want to use this option.”

Glanton’s bill is an extension of an effort former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam first made four years ago with legislation she was able to get passed in the Georgia General Assembly. Glanton said he was a co-sponsor on Abdul-Salaam’s legislation.

The tax proposed by Glanton’s legislation could pay for an extension of MARTA into the county, but he said it could also pay for a separate standalone system. Other counties would also have the authority to call for such referendums, the legislator said.

“Even though it will specifically help Clayton County, it’s a bill that could include other counties should they chose to take advantage of it,” said Glanton.

Glanton’s bill does have bipartisan support in the House though. In addition to local State Reps. Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale) and Valencia Stovall (D-Ellenwood), the bill’s co-signers also include House Democratic Caucus leader Rep. Stacy Abrams (D-Atlanta) and Republican Reps. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) and Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla).

Glanton said that bipartisan support should boost the bill’s chances of passing in both chambers.

Since it is statewide legislation, the bill must make its way out of the House and over to the Senate before March 3, which is the General Assembly’s Crossover Day. Statewide legislation must be passed by at least one chamber of the assembly by the end of that day to have a shot at staying alive during this legislative term.

Senate Bill 284 may face uphill battle

Although Glanton’s legislation has bipartisan support and is based off a previously successful effort, it remains to be seen how easily it will move through the General Assembly based on the reception Seay’s legislation has received.

During a town hall in Jonesboro Monday night, Seay indicated that she got some Republican pushback on her bill during a recent hearing on the legislation. Her legislation would create a fundamental shift for SPLOSTs because current state law forbids local governments from using those tax funds to pay the operational costs for programs, including transit systems.

“We actually had one of our colleagues say, ‘If riders cannot afford to pay the cost of what it would cost to operate and maintain transit, then they don’t need to ride it,’” said Seay. “That’s the atmosphere that we are legislating in, so it’s tough going down there every day particularly when people have a different value system.”

Since it is statewide legislation, It must also follow the rules pertaining to Crossover Day.

If Seay’s bill clears all of the hurdles and becomes law, however, it will give Clayton County another option to fund a transit system. the county has been in the process of compiling a project list for a renewed SPLOST which will go before voters later this year.

Several residents at multiple public input meetings have asked county officials about funding such a system with SPLOST funds.

The county’s transportation situation was on the minds of some of the residents who attended Monday’s town hall forum. One attendee, LaTonya Jackson, said a transit system would give young people in the county more mobility and greater opportunities for employment.

“I’m feeling like Clayton County has been holding our kids hostage by not providing them any way to get out of our county,” said Jackson. “They say they’re breaking into houses, they’re walking the streets, they have nothing to do. They don’t have jobs out here available to them.

“We need transportation so that our kids can go to work, so they can see the city and so that they can go and partake in our city and our state,” Jackson added.