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Sen. Valencia Seay proposing legislation to let SPLOST funds be used for transit operations

Valencia Seay

Valencia Seay

ATLANTA — While Clayton County residents and leaders debate how to revive public transit in the county, legislation has emerged that could add a new dimension to the discussions by creating a new option.

Under existing state law, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds can be used to buy a transit system’s capital items, such as buses and shelters. However, officials are forbidden from using those funds to pay for operational expenses such as salaries for bus drivers.

State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) is seeking to change that.

Seay, the vice-chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, has introduced a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 287, that would change the law to allow communities to use SPLOSTs to pay the operational costs associated with running a transit system.

“Our citizens depend on the essential services our local governments provide,” said Seay in a statement. “This bill goes a long way in keeping crucial funding for maintenance, operations, and transportation that many of our counties desperately need.

“Further, taxpayers will not contribute any additional pennies on the dollar and will get to decide if they renew the SPLOST at the polls in November,” she said.

Seay’s proposal comes at a time when public transit’s place in Clayton County is being debated. Funding was a key reason Clayton County commissioners gave in 2009 and 2010 when they decided to shut down the county’s C-Tran bus service. That system was running a large debt upwards of $8 million, they argued at the time.

County commission Chairman Jeff Turner has expressed support for reviving mass transit in the county as a way to spur economic development. However, whether the county should start up a new bus service in the style of C-Tran, or join MARTA won’t be decided until a transit feasibility study is completed later this year.

Some transit supporters have called on county leaders to skip the study and call for a binding referendum on joining MARTA.

Either way, if Seay’s bill makes it through both Republican-controlled chambers of the Georgia General Assembly and is signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, it would create a new option for funding the service.

Seay has gathered support from key Senate Democrats for the legislation, with several party leaders in the chamber signing on as co-sponsors.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Senate Democratic leader Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker), Senate Democratic Caucus vice-chairwoman for campaigns and fundraising Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), caucus secretary, Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), Clayton County Legislative Delegation Chairwoman Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) and Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta).

The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Finance Committee, which held its first meeting of the 2014 session late Thursday afternoon.