No Transit Vote Expected in 2011

GOP caucus head says the issue is too important to be rushed through.

People pressing for transportation upgrades in the coming legislative session might be disappointed.

After a legislative commission meeting on Tuesday, a high-ranking Republican said there is no interest either in changing the planned transportation tax referendum or passing sweeping regional mass transit legislation.

Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, who chairs the commission set up to remake transit and also chairs the House Republican Caucus, said both efforts are important enough that lawmakers need to spend some time on them during the next year. She said both issues likely would be addressed in 2012.

"I do not believe we'll have legislation for this session," Sheldon said of her commission's transit work. "This is a major investment in the community and so we need to take our time and be careful. I have no desire to put a Band-Aid on this."

On a related issue, no action is expected on a law passed this year setting up a transportation tax referendum in regions throughout the state for 2012, even with protests from Fulton and DeKalb officials.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said it was imperative that the Legislature make changes in the upcoming session to HB 277, which set up the referendum. Local officials from Fulton and DeKalb have argued that the penny tax levied in those counties for MARTA is an unfair double tax if the referendum passes --- and the referendum won't pass if it's not changed. Officials from other counties disagree. They also criticize restrictions in HB 277 on how MARTA can be funded from the referendum.

Sheldon said local officials should concentrate on drawing up project lists for the referendum, not changing HB 277.

"I think we've got to keep that there's a bigger picture in mind," Sheldon said. "In 2012, we will have the opportunity to address the transportation needs for metro Atlanta if we come together. Hopefully no one's going to draw the line in the sand and say we don't want anything if we can't have it all."

However, it is unclear whether changes in the 2012 session means project lists could be changed afterward. According to current law, the project lists must be drawn up by Oct. 15, 2011, in anticipation of the 2012 referendum.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said it would not be disastrous if no changes were made in 2011, but noted it's too early to discourage any action for this session.

There is a lot at stake in getting the legislation right, Sheldon said. The commission heard from former transit officials from Chicago and Denver, who described pitfalls in regional transit and said Atlanta could avoid them if it plans right.