Weekly Links

Tax Uber to Pay for Transit? In Georgia?

Weekly Links: brief commentary on local, state, and national stories from (roughly) the past week

Urban Planning/Transit

Georgia Lawmakers Want to Tax Uber to Pay for Transit

From The AJC. Wow, we’ve come a long way. Not long ago any tax for transit was considered treasonous in Georgia. Today, in HB-511, we have a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Georgia House that specifically dedicates a state sales tax on car-based services to transit.

The original bill filed in House would have imposed a flat, $0.50 fee on ridesharing services. However, the amended version that passed the House nixes the flat fee and instead applies the existing sales tax on ride-hailing services (limousines, etc.) to transit. The problem is that currently ride-sharing services (Uber, Lyft) don’t explicitly have to pay the ride-hailing sales tax. The Georgia Department of Revenue, though, believes they do have to pay that tax and has already billed Uber for past taxes.

While Uber and Lyft supported the original flat fee on their services, they don’t appear to agree with the version that passed the House. That’s because applying the existing sales tax on ride-hailing to them would result in a higher tax bill than the flat fee. The disagreement is also evidenced by the fact that Uber has been fighting the Georgia Dept. of Revenue on their outstanding tax bill. A separate bill, HB-276, attempts to explicitly include Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services as services that fall under the existing ride-hailing sales tax.

In addition to dedicating the state sales tax on Uber to transit, HB-511 would allow counties to raise local taxes to pay for transit upon the approval of voters.

Logistically, the money from the state sales tax would be used to fund pilot programs that encourage private employers to innovate in transportation and to subsidize transportation for unemployed residents in middle and south Georgia. The bill would also reorganize state transportation agencies by creating the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority would be eliminated and the Atlanta Regional Transit Link Authority (The ATL) would be housed in the new agency.

Urban Planning/Cartography

More Women in Cartography Results in Maps That Better Reflect Communities

From CityLab. Cartography and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are two fields that have largely been comprised of males. While mapping areas of the world may seem pretty straightforward (mountain goes here, street goes here, etc), the viewpoints of the mapmakers can have a significant impact on the final product.

When Google begins mapping areas of the developing world, someone has to figure out what aspects of communities are important enough to appear on the base layer of the map. For areas that Google hasn’t yet fully mapped, other organizations have to step in to fill the void. A group called OpenStreetsMap has volunteer mapmakers that help chart and “tag” buildings, streets, and other necessities in areas not yet served by Google.

That problem is that men have long dominated that group, which has resulted in a skewed “tagging” of cities. This means that sports arenas and bars being well-represented on maps, but things like child-care centers, women’s health facilities, and well-lit streets are underrepresented. The OpenStreetsMap community even rejected the “child-care” tag in 2011. When it was finally approved in 2013, the tag was used over 12,000 times. Clearly those people who voted in 2011 weren’t paying attention to a real need. By including a more diverse group in the cartographic process, maps can better reflect the real needs of the community.


Oregon Becomes First State to Cap Rent Increases

From The New York Times. Last week, Oregon became the first state in the country to cap how much landlords can raise rent. While various cities across the country have similar laws, Oregon becomes the first state to mandate a limit on rent increases. Some states, like Illinois and Georgia, actually have laws that ban cities from putting in place rent control measures. Those went into place during the 1980s and 1990s when think-tanks and other organizations advocated for free-market policies with fewer regulations.

The new law caps rent increases at 7% each year, plus the Consumer Price Index, which currently sits at 3% (so 10% in total). Of course, neither side is completely happy. Tenants-rights organizations think 10% is too high while developers and apartment owners believe any cap is too much. It should be noted that Oregon’s largest property owners’ groups chose not to oppose the new law.

This past November, Georgia voters were asked whether they wanted to cap rate increases for City of Atlanta property taxes. Unsurprising, it easily passed. Why then is it so radical to cap rent increases for tenants? Property tax revenue is a significant source of funding for local governments, but huge fluctuations in rates is difficult for all homeowners, particularly lower and middle income homeowners. The same can obviously be said for tenants. Tenants also aren’t afforded the ability to deduct their rent from federal taxes in the same way homeowners are allowed to deduct property taxes and mortgage interest payments from their taxes. Even if rent control isn’t the best policy to keep rents affordable (or at least predictable), the new law brings to light the unequal treatment between renters and homeowners.

Cover Photo: Flooding during a king tide in Annapolis. Credit: Amy McGovern via Flickr

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