The plan starts at the starting place — a proposed state constitutional amendment to be voted on in November authorizing counties, not the legislature, to form special transportation districts of two or more counties and to hold referendums on a sales tax of up to one percent in such districts.
There has been a question from the start about the legality of the TIA which suffers from “fatal flaws,” Setzler says. His colleagues under the Gold Dome generally took the same position before the legislation was passed. But apparently, the leadership did not want to be bothered with minor details.
If the constitutional amendment gets through the General Assembly — a big if — along with its enabling bill, HB 938, then the looming July 31 TIA referendum would be canceled and a new referendum set for July 2014.
The Setzler legislation would also allow counties to opt in to a proposed special transportation district after their county commissions have approved a project list; allow counties to levy a one-cent or fractional sales tax; and mandate that a county or counties sponsoring a fixed transit system, such as the controversial light rail for a tiny piece of Cobb, must agree to pay for the system’s operation after the 10-year tax runs out. No doubt, many Cobb citizens will agree that holding the sponsors of a system responsible for future costs is one of the best features of the proposal. As Setzler pointed out, the TIA setup “provides a substantial subsidy of the existing MARTA system,” even though it “was specifically prohibited in the TIA law.”
The best part of this proposal is that it allows counties to voluntarily join together as they see fit to follow their common interests, create transportation projects they need, and, with voter approval, raise taxes to pay for the projects. There would be no arbitrary districts or regions imposed by the General Assembly — the problem with the existing TIA — and it would be up to elected county officials to do their job in developing rational projects to alleviate traffic problems.
“Most importantly,” as Setzler told the Journal, “it gives counties the power of self-determination. That’s paramount.”
So what is the outlook for the Setzler proposal? First, it would be reassuring to see more sponsors, especially members of the Cobb delegation. Second, there’s no sign of interest by Gov. Nathan Deal or House Speaker David Ralston and only two of 20 legislators (most from Cobb) who received a letter in mid-January from the Georgia Tea Party urging that the TIA be amended or repealed. By early February, the GTP reported, “So far, we have heard from two representatives who currently oppose the law as it is written, but have heard nothing from the Governor of the House Speaker.”
It’s not a good sign. This proposal deserves better. Tell your legislator, the governor, the speaker.