Dear Clayton County: Quit Being Stupid

I’m sorry to have to be so blunt, but I do want to get your attention before you do something again to reinforce your perception among the rest of Georgia.  It’s not that you don’t mean well, but bless your sweet hearts, sometimes you make decisions which make the life choices of 17 year old meth heads look reasonable by comparison.

There’s that whole issue of school accreditation.  Then there’s the fact that you are still considering whether to re-elect a Sheriff who is still under indictment from his miserable single term in office.  These are not exactly moves your local Chamber of Commerce uses to attract industry to your area.  In fact, it’s the kind of stuff that causes home prices to drop as people to move away in droves.

So why do I bring up this unpleasantness?  To keep you from doubling down on the stupid.  It appears that you are about to try and join MARTA – BEFORE?!? the November elections.

Really now?  Let’s help you take a step back from this ledge.

Thomas Wheatley brings us the rational in Creative Loafing:

“My primary goal and concern is to bring back public transit yesterday,” says state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, who’s working with Friends of Clayton Transit, a coalition of several groups, including residents, business owners, environmentalists, bus and rail advocates, civil rights groups and clergy, to bring back public transportation.

Abdul-Salaam and other supporters want Clayton County Commissioners to give voters a chance to decide whether they should pay an extra penny on every dollar to fund those routes — and potentially expand heavy rail or even build commuter rail lines. But Salaam stresses that county officials need to take action.

C-Tran, Clayton County’s local bus system, ceased operations in 2010 after commissioners voted against funding the service during a budget crunch, leaving thousands of straphangers — many of whom lacked access to a car — with few options.

OK, so you’ve established there’s a need.  Now let’s talk about what you also have: Political leverage.

Right now, MARTA is the bastard child of Georgia transportation.  It is a whipping post, structured to fail, with said failure to serve as a monument why transit should not be allowed to creep into lily white suburbs.

It receives no support from the state, but receives “oversight” in the form of restrictions on how much (or how little) of fare box revenue can be used to fund operations and maintenance.  As such, the system remains cash strapped by design, choked of the ability to correct many known inherent flaws, all the while serving as something corrupt suburban public officials can point to when they need a scapegoat to redirect the ire of an irate public searching for examples of public corruption.

Nothing would please Republican leaders right now more than the county with the highest concentration of African Americans to join the system as it currently exists – broken, underfunded, and handcuffed – without having to address any of these inherent flaws.

Do not fall into this trap.

Fulton and DeKalb counties are attempting to use the defeat of T-SPLOST to generate equity for their taxpayers who have built the system’s backbone over the last 40 years.  If you choose to join this system before much needed changes are made at the state level, you are throwing away their leverage, and your own.

If you join now, Republicans will be able to continue to scapegoat MARTA without change, noting that “the people of Clayton were willing to join the system as-is”.  There will be no state funding.  There will be no lifting of the capital expenditure minimums.  And there will be less of a chance that MARTA rail will ever see another county in the metro area.

Clayton County has a real need for its citizens to have transit options.  To accept MARTA as it is will permanently have MARTA sitting at the back of the bus when it comes to regional transportation priorities, however.

Be patient Clayton County.  Hold out for a better deal.

11 comments

      • Calypso says:

        SallyForth-Why didn’t you just Modify your first response after posting to include your clarification instead of posting a reply to your original post?

        • SallyForth says:

          Calypso, I think it has something to do with our murdered Modify/Delete hostage. Has anybody contacted WordPress to see if they can resurrect it?

  1. gt7348b says:

    Charlie – fortunately this is a non-issue for two reasons:

    1. HB 277 (aka TIA) only lifts the sales tax exemption on joining MARTA until Nov 1, 2012. The general election on which a MARTA vote must be held per the MARTA Act is after Nov 1, 2012 and therefore Clayton County can not join. (Section 5 of the bill, now part of OCGA 48-8-6 (b)(2)(B))

    2. The MARTA Act is fairly detailed in how a referendum gets on the ballot in Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett and given the parties involved, there isn’t time for all the necessary actions to occur. First, MARTA and Clayton County would have to negotiate and both MARTA Board of Directors and Clayton County Commission approve an amendment to the Rapid Transit Contract and Assistance Agreement (RTCAA) which governs the collection of the MARTA Tax. The fact that the referendum question must be advertised for 120 days (it may be 90 – I don’t remember exactly and don’t have a copy of the MARTA Act handy) in advance of the vote (or sometime in August or September), plus the meeting schedule of the two entities involved, means that the schedule simply does not work for Clayton County to even be able to put the issue on the ballot even IF you could get the Clayton County Commission to approve it.

    I’m not going to get into the necessary political maneuvering or other issues involved (oh, like two of City of Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb having to approve RTCAA Amendments, who on the Clayton County commission would sponsor, etc, etc).

    And yes – apparently I have way too much time on my hands.

    • Stefan says:

      It’s ok, they have already begun moving Lake Spivey to accommodate Marta.

      Also, I think it would be endlessly amusing if Marta, or better yet, Clayton County Transit, just started running buses (or busses, either one) up to East Cobb on regular routes. I mean, if that’s where people want to go…

    • Bob Loblaw says:

      Thank you for injecting some facts into this thread.

      The Representative successfully amended the transportation bill in the House to raise a 1% sales tax statewide to fund a list of transportation projects by passing a motion in committee to set up the vote for Clayton County join MARTA a few years ago. If it would have passed the Senate, Clayton would have had that vote in 2010.

      When she says yesterday, she means it. But the law is not set up that way. Just sayin’ she ain’t new to the game.

  2. Happy Face says:

    Sounds like a terrible deal for Fulton and Dekalb. Clayton has one rail station (the airport) and surely wouldn’t be happy with just bus service forever. The article over at Creative Loafing says that the penny tax would more than cover the cost of the bus service that was perviously axed but would Clayton be happy for very long with that level of bus service and what is essentially no rail service? I expect they’d end up demanding service that exceeds that which their tax revenue would cover. MARTA isn’t a great regional transit system but seems to do reasonably well in Fulton and Dekalb given the decades of inference it has had to deal with. I’m afraid expanding in to Clayton would spread their already thin resources even thinner.

    Io speak to Charlie’s points about the structural problems imposed by the state, Clayton might be better off restarting their old system if they can get the rest of the state to grant it permission to fund it with a county sales tax and devoid of restrictions like the 50/50 split and a board packed with members of the state government.

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The 50/50 revenue split restrictions only apply to revenues collected from the 1% sales tax paid on purchases in Fulton and DeKalb counties, the 50/50 revenue split restrictions don’t apply to farebox revenues which only covered 31.8% of the cost of operations & maintenance for MARTA in fiscal year 2007 and 27.5% of the cost of operations & maintenance for MARTA in fiscal year 2008.
    http://www.itsmarta.com/uploadedFiles/MARTA_Matters/Finances/Efficiency%20Brochure%202nd%20revision%20060710.pdf

    The problem is not the state legislature-mandated restriction that MARTA sets aside 50% of its sales tax revenues for capital expenditures.

    The problem is that MARTA has never collected enough revenue to cover its costs of O&M from the farebox and has basically refused to collect enough revenue to cover its costs of O&M in the absence of direct state financial support that it was never going to receive and knew that it was never going to receive from the state by adopting a zone-based and/or distance-based structure and pegging its fare increases to inflation.

    The 50/50 sales tax restriction issue is a red herring, a red herring that both MARTA advocates and critics alike have fallen for hook, line and sinker, that MARTA has seemingly put out to deflect attention away from its own substantial operational and managerial shortcomings that include MARTA basically needlessly making itself overly dependent upon a very-limited stream of sales tax revenue by intentionally refusing to collect enough revenues at the farebox during the entirety of its existence.

    Even with being required by state law to set aside 50% of its sales tax revenues for capital expenditures, MARTA still does not have enough money available to pay for those capital expenditures as MARTA still would have had a $2.3 billion long-term operating deficit after receiving $600 million to help with rehab projects had the T-SPLOST passed.

    If anything, MARTA has willingly and gleefully played into the role of scapegoat for corrupt suburban politicians and whipping post for a seemingly hostile state government by refusing to take responsibility for its own finances and collecting enough fare revenue to operate a high level of service instead of pointing the finger at the suburbs and the State Legislature and everyone but itself for its own current sorry state.

    Especially in the absence of financial support that it was never going to receive from the state, there is no excuse why MARTA could not have been recovering substantially more of its operating costs from the farebox during its 40 years of existence because if a system like BART, a system of which MARTA is at least supposed to be partially modeled after, a system that receives substantially less sales tax revenues than MARTA (BART received $166.5 million in sales tax revenues while MARTA received $307.5 million in sales tax revenues in fiscal year 2010), can recover 78% of its operating costs from the farebox with an increased fare structure then why couldn’t MARTA have been collecting most of its operating costs from the farebox in its 40 years of existence in a political and financial environment where it sorely needed to do so to survive and have any hopes of thriving?
    http://www.bart.gov/about/financials/index.aspx

  4. InAtl says:

    Last Dem where do you come up with a farebox recovery for BART of 78%. The numbers look like their farebox recover is under 60%. Granted that’s an excellent recovery rate but we are also talking about San Francisco which due its land use patterns is far more transit friendly. Not to mention BART hasn’t had to compete with a freeing the freeways effort that in effect shifted the needed density (and ridership) near the stations to points far outside 285.

    But yes MARTA can and should look at ways to recover more at the farebox.

    On the other hand I don’t understand how someone could have advocated for TSPLOST but now won’t even let his citizens have the chance to vote to be in MARTA.

    The non binding resolution passed in 2010 by getting almost 70% of the vote.

    And the projected proceeds would do far more than cover bus costs. It would also provide matching funds for going after federal funds to extend rail from the airport which should then reduce bus operating costs if done correctly. And with MARTA constrained from doing expansions in Fulton and DeKalb, Clayton may represent the only game in town, (outside the beltline) with a funding source to go after federal new starts dollars. One would think Atlanta would be a shoe in for funding of at least one project during the next 10 or so years.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “Last Dem where do you come up with a farebox recovery for BART of 78%[?]”

      InAtl, the BART farebox recovery rate of 78% is the result when the Sub-Total Operating Revenue of $415.1 million which includes Rail Passenger Revenue, ADA Passenger Revenue, Parking Revenue (BART charges to park at their stations) and “Other Operating Revenue” is applied to the Sub-Total Operating expense of $532.6 million for Fiscal Year ’13 on Page 4 of 17 of the “SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA RAPID TRANSIT DISTRICT
      FISCAL YEAR 2013 ADOPTED BUDGET” under the title of “Attachment 1: Fiscal Year 2013 District Operating Budget Sources and Uses Detail” ($415.1 million is 77.9% of $532.6 million).
      http://www.bart.gov/docs/financials/FY2013_BART_Budget.pdf
      http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2012/news20120614a.aspx

      “But yes MARTA can and should look at ways to recover more at the farebox. ”

      With a nearly $3 billion long-term operating deficit, I fear that it may likely be too late for MARTA as it is currently structured to substantially raise fares to attempt to increase its revenues at the farebox as any substantial increase in fares would likely only serve to runaway customers and speed up the death spiral process that MARTA is currently in.

      Recovering more from of its revenues through fares and pegging fare increases to inflation is something that MARTA should have been doing from its inception.

      “On the other hand I don’t understand how someone could have advocated for TSPLOST but now won’t even let his citizens have the chance to vote to be in MARTA.”

      The reason why a referendum to join MARTA can’t come up for a vote in Clayton County is because there is a segment of the upper-middle class population there that thinks that the reason for all of the county’s ills is because Clayton County has had TOO MUCH access to transit which has caused the county to attract too many low-income residents instead of attracting more higher-income middle class and upper-middle class residents which is the reason why whenever the issue of transit comes up for a vote within the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the vote is usually 3-2 against either keeping transit operating (C-Tran) or increasing the amount of transit available in the county (joining MARTA).

      There are many people in the middle class and upper middle class in Clayton County that think the county needs to force low-income residents out to make way for higher-income residents and in their minds the best way to run low-income people out of Clayton County is by severely-limiting access to public transportation upon which many low-income people are dependent upon.

      There is a segment of the population in Clayton County (that 30% of those who voted against the non-binding resolution in 2010 to join MARTA) that simply just does not want transit and the lower-income people that come with it in the county and right now, their plan seems to be working as people without cars are electing to either move out of the county or not to move into the county because of lack of access to transit after C-Tran ceased operations as there is a concerted effort being made by those at the highest end of the income ladder in Clayton County to run low-income people out of the county.

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