Republicans down at the Capitol are angling to become champions of public transit. What’s going on?
This doesn’t exactly strike me as a bread and butter Republican issue. While there are strong economic development arguments to be made for investing in public transit, Republicans tend to shy away from anything with the word “public” attached to it.
David Ralston, the Speaker of the House, announced the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, a new body that will study statewide public transit options. He’s also created a new appropriations subcommittee, which signals the increased importance of public transit to the budget.
“I’ve said repeatedly and I’ll say again today, transit is going to be an important part of our transportation future in Georgia,” Ralston told reporters. We have to recognize transit is not only a part of congestion-mitigation, but it’s economic development here in the state.”
On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other Senate leaders have also signaled public transit will be a higher priority. Selecting Sen. Brandon Beach as the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, the Alpharetta Republican who championed increased funding for MARTA last year, bodes well.
While this isn’t the first time either Cagle or Ralston have talked about public transit, they do seem a bit more poised to act than they have in the past.
Last year, Sen. Beach’s public transit bill was stalled and ultimately had to get re-tooled as a local bill, impacting just Atlanta, to pass. I think there was a hesitancy on the part of some Republicans to wholeheartedly support what was clearly a tax-related measure to fund public infrastructure.
Sen. Beach faced a primary challenger, in part over this issue, but ultimately won 58 to 42 percent. I suspect that this win has a little something to do with why Republican leadership are a bit more willing to step up around public transit.
Folks around the Capitol are repeating the mantra that the election of Donald Trump signals the American people want new leadership, and want Republican leadership. And while they aren’t commenting as much about what every local election has meant, everyone down there has been paying attention. The fact that a pro-public transit conservative got reelected signals to Republican leadership what the priorities are of the people.
A more cynical interpretation is that the election of a pro-public transit conservative tells leaders that this is safe territory to fool around in and not lose your seat over.
Regardless of why, elections aren’t just about who wins what seat, they are also about what priorities and values voters want to see championed, whether you live in the district or not.
While it remains to be seen how serious the conversation about public transit will get, it’s interesting to see that elected officials do, indeed, pay attention to the will of voters — perhaps more than all the conversations about money and lobbyists and ethics sometimes give them credit for.