Two things may soon be coming to Georgia and metro Atlanta: another layer of local government and many more trains. In the coming week a bill that would pave the way for a massive expansion of MARTA rail service throughout the region is expected to be introduced. Last week, a bill that would create townships in Georgia was introduced in the House. Those two items, as well as tax credits for electric vehicles and pedestrian bridge funding, are among several developments from the latest two weeks of the 2016 Georgia Legislative Session.
Last year the hot topic was how to pay for transportation in Georgia, specifically how to pay for highways. Not only do we need to fix our bridges and roads that are on the verge of collapse, but we need to pay for expansion and upgrades. After much debate, HB 170 was signed into law allowing local governments to increase the gas tax by a penny to pay for transportation projects. While the law goes a long way in establishing a method for increasing the transportation budget, it is limited when it comes to funding anything other than roads and highways. For most jurisdictions this isn’t an issue since most jurisdictions in Georgia are only concerned with those two modes of transportation.
Unfortunately, the most populous region and the economic engine of the state requires more than just roads. Metro Atlanta not only needs money to maintain its existing mass transportation network, but desperately needs more money to make the system look a little less Soviet Union-y and a little more modern advanced country-y. We’re talking about building a system that brings Atlanta into alignment with the rest of America by meeting the growing demand for alternatives to the stress of round-the-clock traffic jams.
As reported by the AJC, State Senator Brandon Beach, a Republican from Alpharetta, is expected to introduce a bill that would allow some of the money raised from an increase in the gas tax to go directly to MARTA. This would help fund MARTA’s long-term $8 billion expansion plan.
The $4 billion in estimated revenue generated from gas tax money that would go to MARTA through 2057, along with matching grants from the federal government could allow MARTA to nearly double its existing rail network according to CEO Keith Parker. The main objectives of the expansion plan are to run rail farther up GA-400, along I-20 east of Atlanta, and to build a light rail system running from the Lindbergh area of Atlanta to eastern Decatur. Any additional funds could help fund the Atlanta Beltline’s light rail initiative.
The Northeast part of this country has these weird things called townships. Other places may have them as well, but my only recollection of townships is from seeing signs declaring them while driving through Ohio and Pennsylvania on cold, dark, dreary winter days. The South is already increasingly importing the attitude and stress from that part of the country so we might as well import their local government structure as well.
Several weeks ago we wrote about a report released by a Georgia Senate committee on the creation of new cities, among several other things. It decided the “city-lite” concept of chartering cities with limited powers is likely unconstitutional and should be immediately abandoned. It recommended the exploration of creating new entities called townships that would only have power over zoning and building codes. They wouldn’t be cities, but they would give residents more localized control over land development planning. While the word “township” may be the same, the powers and structure of townships in each state vary; this is Georgia’s version.
Bills have now been introduced in both the House (HB-785) and the Senate (SB-272) addressing the issue of townships. In essence, the bills would allow the creation of townships in Georgia through local legislation. The townships would generally have zoning and code enforcement powers and have the ability to raise money through property taxes (up to a .5 mil rate). The Georgia Constitution would have to be amended to allow for this, so resolutions have been introduced calling for a referendum to allow for the appropriate amendments.
Unsurprisingly, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) is officially opposed to this legislation as it takes power away from counties, but still requires the counties to provide services to the townships. Townships likely undermine the goal of having a coordinated land use plan for the region. Allowing small groups of people to set land use controls for specific areas without regard to any other area is not progress; it simply creates more chaos. If land use codes were required to meet certain regional goals or there was some other binding regional oversight then allowing more local thought on the planning of land development would be a great thing.
Loathing Pedestrian Bridges and Tax Credits for Electric Vehicles
Some senators have no love for very specific types of pedestrian bridges. In the Senate, SB-288 prohibits municipalities from using public money for the construction of pedestrian bridges “for the purposes of providing a pathway between a multipurpose domed stadium facility and a transit rail station.” There isn’t much background information on this to be found, so for now we’ll just assume this has something to do with the new Falcon’s stadium and creating a link between it and nearby MARTA stations.
House Bill 877 was introduced last week to re-establish tax credits for plug-in electric vehicles. While the credits would not be as lucrative as the ones that expired last year, they would still be enough to encourage more electric vehicle sales and return Georgia to the top of the list for such sales. The credits would be in the amount of $3000 through 2017 and $2000 through 2019.
Electric vehicles, of course, are not any more environmentally-friendly than traditional vehicles, but they do reorganize pollution. As long as our electricity is created by non-renewable sources, mainly coal, electric vehicles will indirectly produce pollution. However, they do make breathing in cities a bit easier since they do not directly contribute to the pollution in and around our sidewalks and parks since they are zero emission vehicles.
Updates on All Bills Being Tracked
HB-514, Creation of City of South Fulton
Status: Recommitted in Senate, 1/11/16. This bill was discussed last week.
HB-706, Change Atlanta Limits
Status: House Second Readers, 1/16/16
HB-734, Georgia Space Flight Act
Statuts: House Second Readers,1/14/16. This bill was discussed last week.
HB-693, Georgia Legacy Trust Fund
Status: House Second Readers, 1/11/16. This bill was discussed last week.
HR-964, Re-Creation of Counties Merged with Others
Status: House Pre-filed, 12/21/15. This bill was discussed last week.
SB-221, Creation of City of Greenhaven
Status: Senate Recommitted, 1/11/16
HB-785, Creation of Townships
Status: House Second Readers, 1/22/16
SB-272, Creation of Townships
Status: Senate Read and Referred, 1/21/16
SB-288, No Public Funding for Specific Pedestrian Bridges
Status: Senate Read and Referred, 1/25/16
HB-877, Tax Credits for Plug-In Electric Vehicles
Status: House Hopper, 1/28/16
HB-21, Abolish Population Requirement for Creation of Transit System
Status: Senate Recommitted, 1/11/16