House speaker: It’s time to study statewide transit funding in Georgia

House Speaker David Ralston at the Georgia Chamber's Eggs & Issues breakfast. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

House Speaker David Ralston at the Georgia Chamber’s Eggs & Issues breakfast. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

House Speaker David Ralston said he will support legislation this year to create a new transit commission that would study whether to use state money to pay for trains, subways and bus systems – and come up with detailed recommendations for lawmakers to act upon.

Ralston announced the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding at the Georgia Chamber’s annual breakfast meeting, where he said the state needs to consider a deeper investment in mass transit.

“For our state to continue to lead the nation in transportation and logistics, we must do more to mitigate road congestion and move freight efficiently,” he said. “We have a remarkable opportunity to use transit for both of these goals.”

Both the House and Senate have launched separate study committees into transit funding, but the speaker’s office said this commission would provide a more comprehensive look at whether the state should devote consistent resources to transit and what kind of state oversight is needed.

Ralston is among a growing number of Republicans, enticed by the burst of economic development along the rail lines linking Atlanta to its northern suburbs, who are embracing transit. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has emerged as one of the most forceful supporters of transit funding, as has state Sen. Brandon Beach, the new chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

But pro-transit advocates still long for a dedicated stream of statewide funding for the projects.

They come close in 2015, when $75 million in bonds for transit was used as a bargaining chip to earn Democratic support for a sweeping transportation bill. The new law, House Bill 170, provides about $900 million a year for road and bridge improvements, but it was criticized as an unnecessary tax hike by some conservative activists.

Still, the funding is a one-time commitment, and Georgia remains one of the few states that doesn’t provide regular funding for the vast majority of its transit operations. (The lone exception is the Xpress bus service by the Georgia Regional Transit Authority, which receives state subsidies.)

Ralston said his legislation shouldn’t be seen as a state takeover attempt of existing transit agencies – namely Atlanta’s MARTA subway line. There are transit systems in 122 Georgia counties, ranging from heavy rail to sporadic bus systems, and each has disparate needs.

Business boosters quickly embraced Ralston’s proposal. Metro Atlanta Chamber chief executive Hala Moddelmog said the commission will “develop sustainable solutions to meet our growing state’s overall transportation needs.”

The commission is separate from a new panel of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee that’s charged with studying transportation and ways to pay for it.

As for whether he backed a dedicated annual funding for transit, Ralston was noncommittal.

“I don’t know. I’ve said over the last few years there’s a future that we have to plan, and build in a component for transit,” he said, adding: “The amount of that, what it looks like – that’s why we’re going to create this commission to take a look at it.”

Reader Comments 0

66 comments
Unna Yared
Unna Yared

Paul Ferdinand what we were talking about with atlanta not being a major city yet

Ron Conroy
Ron Conroy

No thank you! We don't want it. We don't need it. It's stupid!

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

Why are so many people in GA afraid to become a major state like MA, NY, D.C., and CA. The south needs a big boy to represent them but Georgians seem like their more about moving backwards then forwards. How awesome would it be to have the first high speed rail system in America. It's like you guys insist on being the losers of the future.

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

Yes please \U0001f57a\U0001f3fd\U0001f57a\U0001f3fd\U0001f64f\U0001f3fe

Joel Watson
Joel Watson

So this means that I have to pay taxes for a system I'll never use?

Andre DeLara
Andre DeLara

Yeah yeah yeah - I'll believe it when I see it.

Kathy Thompson
Kathy Thompson

and the most corrupt leading the way.. He will make a personal fortune off this game...

Nate Green Sr.
Nate Green Sr.

YES, WE NEED IT IN THE METRO ATLANTA AREA. BACK IN THE PAST WE SAID "NO." BUT NOW MOST METRO ATLANTA COUNTIES ARE SUFFERING FROM THAT "NO."

Craig Black
Craig Black

Not one more dime. Make your priorities with what you have and live with them.

Orland Shelley
Orland Shelley

I am fighting a commuter train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans right now. Huge, monster white elephant that will never be revenue sufficient. Cost you and I $90 round trip but it will of course be subsidized so the welfare rats ride fo a dolla.

John Woods
John Woods

Wonder how many Engineering and Construction Company Lobbying Firms donated to him???

Rod Miller
Rod Miller

Big gubmint RINOs at it again \U0001f621

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley

I think Georgia could capture a lot more sales taxes from truckers and travelers who now stop in Chattanooga's daily halt on I-24. If Georgia could link I-59 to a western route to link to Adairsville or simply shoot south to LaGrange and Columbus while crossing I-20 it would get folks into Georgia boundaries sooner and alleviate I-75 over crowding from others who do not need to get to Atlanta.

Mike Lindsey
Mike Lindsey

I just hope this isn't more lip service.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

The state as a whole does not need a transit system, only Atlanta does thus only Atlanta should pay!

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

O Bull! Its our taxes that keep the city afloat. You mean, we pay and Atlanta progresses. There is still two Georgias.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Bill Gainous Thats funny, I don't hate Atlanta in the least, I pity it.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

Almost all money comes from Fulton and Dekalb counties, even though it serves the entire metro area. Outlying counties dump off patients, but refuse to contribute their fair share. Just another way Atlanta takes care of the surrounding metro area. Before you contradict this infomation, you should know that anyone can easily Google it. Not that it isn't pretty well-known stuff already.

J.r. Rich-Bellerose
J.r. Rich-Bellerose

Whether you think so or not the entire state benefits in all sorts of ways from the metro area existing in this state.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Atlanta is the cess pool and money hole of the state.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

If Atlanta kept all the money it injects into the Georgia economy, backwater towns around the rest of the state would stop their sputtering and finally die. This manufactured hatred for the big city, and a refusal to work with your neighbors is why so much of rural Georgia can't progress. It's also why many of us leave for better opportunities. What's the harm in working together?

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

There is absolutely no factual basis for a claim like that. I'm from a small georgia town. I don't see what the hatred is about. In rural georgia, neighboring counties don't even want to pool resources most of the time, much less work with a larger city for mutual benefit. You do it to yourself, and for no good reason.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Bill Gainous No factual basis? Where does the money come from each year to keep Grady Hospital alfoat? It's Atlanta thats not paying its keep.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Bill Gainous The State leg. dumps tstate tax money into Grady every year to help make up its horrendous losses from dead beats.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

That's fine, don't Google it. Deny that a quarter of Georgia's physicians come through Grady. Deny that it is the only Level 1 trauma center for over 100 miles, and one of the busiest in the country. Deny that patients from all the counties you think are the givers in this state are dumped on its doorstep, without reimbursement. Deny that almost all funding comes from the 2 counties that comprise Atlanta, and this hospital continues to survive, in a state that cost the hospital millions in medicaid reimbursements. Above all this, if your shining example of how Atlanta is sucking the money out of your flourishing hick town is Grady Hospital, then you really don't have the intellect to be a part of this conversation in the first place. What makes that most disturbing is that it doesn't require a high level of intelligence to know money flows out of Atlanta to the rest of the state, and not the other way around. To have such misplaced, blind anger that you can do the mental gymnastics it takes to convince yourself otherwise, is not only astounding, but also very disheartening. There is simply no good reason to hate the city for just being a city. There is no good sense in biting the hand that feeds you.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

In 2013, Grady's profits were $20 million

Genesis Harrod
Genesis Harrod

If they want to see growth across the state, they need to connect all of the smaller cities to Atlanta, via rail. It needs to happen eventually, might as well get a funding mechanism going now.

Ed Applewhite
Ed Applewhite

Nelms Graham I have to agree with you on that one --- the answer is to not allow any more businesses to locate in Atlanta but instead locate in areas less populated

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

The rest of the state does neither want or need Atlanta or its problems.

Genesis Harrod
Genesis Harrod

No, the answer is for those other cities to make themselves as attractive an investment as Atlanta.

Amanda Ruf
Amanda Ruf

Oh, they want the train money now. 8 years behind schedule due ideology.

Greg Meeks
Greg Meeks

Marta it the biggest drug trafficking system in the state.

Marion Baker
Marion Baker

Yea need to make a bypass that allows people to give Atlanta a wide berth would be Great ! Like not having to get within 40 to 50 miles of downtown going north south east or west !

Virginia Chastain
Virginia Chastain

We don't need mass transit all over state. If you want to expand it in Atlanta let Atlanta pay for it.

J.r. Rich-Bellerose
J.r. Rich-Bellerose

There are other cities and regions that would greatly benefit from transit and connectivity.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

Good idea. Keep Atlanta money in Atlanta. Without economically backward towns sucking off its teet, the city could be even better.

Matthew Pociask
Matthew Pociask

Why do we need another study? MARTA is the only major transit system in the country without state government support. We have extremely poor public transit options statewide. Instead of studying whether water is wet, pass the funding already!

Sherri Carithers-Boney
Sherri Carithers-Boney

Yes!!!! It's about time!!! People are still moving to metro Atlanta and widening and adding lanes is not enough!!! Marta definitely needs to be expanded!!!

Steve Morris
Steve Morris

Time to pass religious liberty and open carry everywhere

Sally Williams
Sally Williams

You already have religious liberty and open carry.

Bill Gainous
Bill Gainous

Yes, we suffer from a lack of traffic, churches, and guns in Georgia. Haha!