While MARTA faced a $57 million budget gap due largely to lower-than forecast sales tax revenue, the transportation department says it may have to cut $888 million of highway projects in the Atlanta region this year. That's party because falling gasoline prices mean motorists are paying less in fuel taxes.
The chairs of the four agencies intend to write a joint letter to the governor and state legislature warning that Georgia "is in danger of losing hundreds of thousands of potential jobs in the coming decades if transportation is left underfunded."
A study commissioned by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority found this since the 1980s the state has had the second lowest level of per capita transportation of any state; only Tennessee spent less.
Another reason to act: the state could lose "millions of badly needed federal economic stimulus dollars for transportation, if it does not act with one voice." At a transportation summit Wednesday hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission, agency executives stressed the need for the state to have projects that will be "shovel-ready" within 120 of President-elect Obama signing an economic stimulus package and to be prepared to come up with 100 percent in matching funds. They also warned against inter-agency turf wars.
“If we go up with everyone talking their own way we will get cannibalized while other states go to the bank,” said MARTA General Manger Beverly Scott.
It remains to be seen how the Georgia legislature will respond to the situation. While 74 percent of voters polled by a business group called Get Georgia Moving said they wanted a referendum on increasing the state sales tax to fund transportation, nothing might get done this year because Republican legislative leaders say a vote on sales tax matters cannot take place until 2010.
Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson said he:
"is committed to presenting a workable solution to the voters in 2010. But first, we must develop a comprehensive statewide transportation improvement plan that meets our present and future needs."