House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) spoke at length with WABE reporter Denis O’Hayer. Abrams tells O’Hayer that public transit is a critical part of Georgia’s future. She also notes that when businesses like Mercedes choose to locate near MARTA stations, they aren’t doing it for partisan reasons.
WABE Reporter Denis O’Hayer: Speaking of calling things by another name, there has certainly been a lot of talk about how to fund transit, and whether to use some of the recently approved transportation tax money for transit, specifically MARTA. Are you representing an area that has been paying into MARTA for years, opposed to expanding into other places even if it means not asking them to pay some of the freight that Fulton and DeKalb have been paying?
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta): I strongly support the expansion of transit because that solidifies Georgia, and particularly the Metro-Atlanta region, as a destination for new jobs, and for new economic opportunity.
WABE: Would that mean say, giving up control of MARTA or calling it something else, merging it into a regional system? Do you have any problem in principle with that?
Abrams: I think that’s a different conversation. We have to begin at least by recognizing the cost for MARTA to do it’s current job, and I thank Keith Parker’s extraordinary work at expanding, both the operations of MARTA, but also improving the reputation. There are certainly additional conversations to be had about how we finance transit and what we do with transit, and any conversation about changing governance structure certainly will have to include a conversation about who’s funding it.
WABE: But can you get funding for MARTA through the SPLOST, this transportation sales tax, without the changing governance as part of any kind of political negotiation with suburban republicans?
Abrams: I believe we can, I think that last years conversation about transportation was a bi-partisan compromise. We worked very closely together on a host of issues, including on MARTA. We ran out of time at the end of the session. We actually had a solution embedded in a Senate bill, but unfortunately there was some language changes that we just didn’t have time to fix, and we, I believe, have a gentle-persons agreement to continue to work on this issue, because transit is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue.
When Mercedes decided where it was going to situate itself it did not pick it based on Democrats or Republicans, it picked it based on access to MARTA, and so I think that there’s a short-term conversation about how MARTA can access the financing it needs to continue to provide services. There’s a longer-term, broader conversation that we need to have as a state about where transit fits, because transit’s not just an Atlanta issue, there’s a transit system down in Columbus that’s actually well-funded right now. They have opportunities to do more.
We have regional conversations that we need to have, and as a state we have to have a generalized conversation about how we finance transportation writ large, and that’s roads, bridges, and transit.