My father always says, “It’s not a bargain if you can’t afford it.” I believe that is the advice he might pass along to MARTA supporters.
MARTA has long desired more flexibility in its ability to determine how it will spend its funds. Currently, 50% of MARTA funds must be spent on capital improvements and 50% on operations. This is a fairly tight financial straitjacket, though it is a way to prevent subsidization of riders at the expense of abandoning necessary upkeep of the system.
There is a possibility that the ties on spending might be loosened in the draft legislation suggested by the Transit Governance Task Force. There are; however, strings as Maria Saporta writes in The Saporta Report:
To free MARTA from the state-imposed restriction that 50 percent of its revenues be spent on capital and 50 percent be spent on operations, MARTA basically would have to turn over most of its authorities to the newly-created Transit Governance Council. For the record, no other transit agency in the nation is saddled with such an unworkable rule.
MARTA represents a $6 billion investment in our region. Why should MARTA turn over its Constitutional powers to a state-controlled entity and give up its designation as the transit authority that can receive federal funding in the region.
According to folks close to MARTA, relaxing the 50/50 rule would give MARTA flexibility over how it spends its sales tax revenue (and it is expected that currently would be worth about $20 million a year for the transit agency.
It is inconceivable that MARTA could or should give up most of its powers and its $6 billion investment in return for getting flexibility in how it can spend the MARTA sales tax collected in the City of Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties.
And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) which would be the body with the ultimate control of MARTA. The 15 members would all be appointed: 9 by the governor, 3 by the lieutenant governor and 3 by the state house speaker. It’s not as though petty, personal politics ever happens in Georgia, so what could possibly go wrong?
From the state’s perspective, things are different. One of the complaints about the state is that it has not contributed as much money to MARTA as is needed. It is a fact that state governments are reluctant to give up control of funds, but let’s take this a step farther.
If the state increases its control of the funds, then it has greatly increased its responsibility for MARTA. It can no longer stand at a distance and point fingers. It will be forced to have a hands-on, problem-solving approach and let’s face it, the state has many more resources at its disposal that it could employ to improve MARTA – if the price is right.
In this case, the price for the state of Georgia taking so much control of MARTA is inescapable political responsibility.
If one wants the state to “man up” and do the right thing by MARTA, then allowing the state to be responsible might be the right way to go. The next logical step would be for the state to increase its funding of MARTA to acceptable levels for a state that still lays claim to the title Empire State of the South.
Is this a bargain that MARTA can’t afford? Perhaps, after all, it is not. My father, actually a man of few words, might offer another bit of sage advice to MARTA supporters, “If you want a man’s help, then make your interests his interests.” Yeah, that bit of wisdom would certainly fit.
There is much more at The Saporta Report, so check it out to get additional information. This is not the only issue with the draft legislation that is discussed. You’re big boys and girls so you can wander over there and find your way back again. For the weary, here’s the link.