Atlanta voters will have a chance to boost MARTA's funding with a half-penny sales tax referendum next week. It's separate from the Atlanta and Fulton County T-SPLOST measures. Those are for broader projects while the MARTA money is solely for transit. Also, the MARTA sales tax would stay in place longer: 40 years. That length of time is part of the reason the MARTA referendum is not technically a T-SPLOST measure – though it’s pretty close in meaning.
WABE's Amy Kiley spoke with MARTA General Manager Keith Parker about the ballot measure. Here are highlights from the interview:
- Parker says a survey signaled people want more routes and hours from MARTA. He says tax money from the referendum could help fund such expansion.
- The tax money is not enough to cover the whole project list attached to the funds. Parker says MARTA would work with leaders and the public to prioritize items on the wish list if voters approved the referendum. He also says Atlanta is due for federal matching funds.
- If the measure passes, the BeltLine could see Atlanta Streetcar connections and light rail along the trail. Parker says at least some money would go toward those projects – though the tax money wouldn't fund them completely.
- The state almost shut down the Atlanta Streetcar due to safety and security concerns. Parker says projects that are new sometimes suffer "hiccups," but such problems should be in the past.
- A common criticism of funding MARTA with a sales tax is that it requires a larger portion of income from people who earn less money. That's because they need to spend more of what they have on necessities. Parker points out that low-income people without cars could come out on top with an expanded transit system since they could use it to get to work.
- Parker says even people who don't use transit would benefit from an expanded system through increased property values, better air quality and less traffic.
- Gentrification is often a concern with transit and other projects, but Parker says, "We take affordable housing very seriously."