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February 9, 2016

Transit Roundup: SB 313 hearing, Petition & Poll

Transit supporters packed a Senate committee room today for a first hearing on a bill that would allow MARTA counties - specifically Fulton and DeKalb - to vote on a 1/2 penny for MARTA rail expansion.   Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) presented SB 313 to the State and Local Government Operations (SLGO) committee.  No vote was taken today, however there are several related developments to report:Cay9Mh7XIAAC_CR

  • SB 313 will be withdrawn and re-assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee for further consideration. SB 330, an almost identical bill also sponsored by Sen. Beach, already sits in the Transportation committee.
  • Senator Albers, the SLGO Chairman, will serve as an ex-officio member of the transportation committee to hear SB 313 only.
Cay29zaUsAAy77q-2Prior to the committee hearing, the Coalition to Advance Atlanta held a press conference in the Capitol featuring a line-up of transit supporters including Senator Beach.  GPB filed a report on the event which was covered by a full cadre of Atlanta media as well as the Capitol press corps.

The Coalition to Advance Atlanta is a grassroots advocacy coalition founded by millennials in support of regional transit expansion.  The group is also circulating a petition in an effort to communicate their support to legislators.

Earlier, MAC Chief Policy Officer Katie Kirkpatrick and Dave Williams, VP of Infrastructure and Government Affairs, shared results of a voter poll on the topic.  Here is an excerpt from the interview with the AJC's Jim Galloway.

Metro officials will make public an October poll of registered voters in DeKalb and Fulton, which shows that 73 percent — 58 percent among Republicans — favor expansion of MARTA. Pollster John McLaughlin told me that the approval holds up even when only north Fulton responses are tallied.

Given the defeat of the regional TSPLOST in 2012, chamber officials knew they had to walk into this debate with fresh ammunition. “After the TSPLOST, we really wanted to understand the appetite of the voters,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, chief policy officer for the metro chamber.

Seventy-one percent of those polled would favor a referendum to decide the matter, which is no surprise.

The news is in this finding: 49 percent of Fulton and DeKalb voters polled – 46 percent in Fulton – say they would vote against any penny sales tax referendum for transportation that didn’t consider funding for commuter rail.

“I think what we found is that, lacking the opportunity to vote to expand transit, I don’t think it’s likely that voters will approve a roads-only referendum,” said Dave Williams, the chamber’s vice president for governmental affairs.

Should this finding hold up, it would be a watershed moment for transportation politics in Georgia. Yes, commuter-rail skeptics could veto MARTA expansion and continue to push roads-only solutions in Fulton and DeKalb counties. But commuter-rail enthusiasts now may have enough political clout to veto the initiatives of the roads-only crowd, too.