By Scott Haggard ARC’s Manager of Government Affairs
The MARTA sales tax hasn’t been increased since it went into effect some four decades ago. But legislation approved by the Georgia General Assembly this session will give Atlanta residents the opportunity to vote on whether to do just that – potentially providing a new funding stream to expand rail transit in the city.
Transit funding was a highlight of the recently completed 2016 legislative session, but there were also advances made in the areas of aging services and workforce development.
Here is a closer look at some of the legislation that passed this session that will have positive outcomes for the Atlanta region:
City of Atlanta Transit Tax Vote
SB 369 began as a bill dealing with local regulation of fireworks but ended the 40th – and last – day of the session as the legislative vehicle that will allow City of Atlanta residents to vote in November 2016 on whether to levy an additional half-cent MARTA sales tax for 41 years to fund new transit projects.
The bill calls for a list of projects that would be funded by the half-cent sales tax to be finalized between MARTA and the city by July 31, 2016. This list will likely include some amount dedicated to new rail service for the Atlanta Streetcar program and Atlanta BeltLine.
Fulton County and City of Atlanta T-SPLOSTs
SB 369 also allows for the north and south parts of Fulton County outside of the City of Atlanta to ask their residents to vote on whether they want to raise the sales tax by 0.75 percent for five years to fund transportation projects in their local regions.
Revenues raised by this tax, known as a T-SPLOST, would likely be divided among the cities and unincorporated area according to population. These funds could be used for road, bridge, highway, transit and aviation projects.
The legislation also enables the City of Atlanta to put a five-year, half-percent T-SPLOST before voters that would pay for additional (non-MARTA) transportation projects.
In both T-SPLOST cases, the appropriate governing authorities must vote to place a referendum on the ballot.
Regional Transit Study Committees
The General Assembly decided to continue the regional conversation about transit by forming new study committees on “Regional Transit Solutions.” HR 1605 sets up a House committee, while SR 1085 creates a Senate committee. The two committees will meet during the summer and fall of 2016 and could bring additional legislative recommendations for the 2017 session.
ARC stakeholders were pleased with the addition of $2.55 million in the state’s FY 2017 budget for home and community based services. This could remove up to 1,000 people from waiting lists and provide additional meals.
In addition, the state budget included $1 million for transition services, which help move seniors from nursing homes to community settings, and $1.02 million to provide 11 new adult protective services caseworkers.
The General Assembly incentivized employers to offer work-based learning opportunities for students 16 and older with the unanimous passage of HB 402. This bill allows for a 5 percent discount in worker’s compensation insurance premiums for employers offering such programs, which must be certified by the State Board of Education.
The Atlanta Region could see up to two new cities added to its roster. Legislation will enable referenda to be held in November 2016 that, if approved, would create the cities of Stonecrest in DeKalb County and South Fulton in Fulton County.
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