An effort to privatize much of MARTA appears to be dead for the year, but legislation that would give Republican mayors more control over the transit agency’s board lives on.
State House Republicans on Monday pushed through an amendment that would give mayors of cities in DeKalb and Fulton counties appointments to the MARTA board, something Republicans have long sought. But Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, chairman of the MARTA legislative oversight committee, did not make another run at privatization.
The amendment dealing with the makeup of the MARTA board was attached to Senate Bill 155, an unrelated matter, after previous attempts stalled in the Senate. Jacobs’ amendment also would lift for one year the requirement that MARTA use 50 percent of its sales tax revenue for capital improvements.
Jacobs fought hardest for changes in how MARTA directors are appointed, in effect giving most of the power in Fulton County to mayors because he said they should have more authority over transit. It is another sign of the dwindling power of the Democratic-dominated Fulton County Commission.
“Our cities deserve direct representation on the MARTA board just the same as the city of Atlanta does,” Jacobs said. “The city of Atlanta is a big fish, but the city of Sandy Springs is not a small fish.”
Meanwhile, the idea that more worried MARTA backers — privatization — is apparently done for now, although with two days left in this year’s legislative session, it could still reappear elsewhere. Jacobs had earlier added privatization and other MARTA changes onto SB 168, which deals with bidding on public contracts, but the House Rules Committee stripped that language out Monday morning.
MARTA’s union views privatization as a threat to jobs, and its members have fought it in the Senate. MARTA’s leadership, meanwhile, supports privatization but preferred it be voluntary. Efforts to privatize MARTA grew more urgent last year as the nation’s ninth-largest transit agency projected an operating deficit of more than $30 million.
Jacobs’ plan for the MARTA board would give two appointments to a caucus of mayors in north Fulton, which has a larger portion of the non-Atlanta population. One appointment would go to south Fulton, chosen by the mayors of the six cities, the County Commission chairman and commissioners who represent unincorporated areas. DeKalb mayors and the governor also would get an appointment.
Curtis Howard, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732, which represents MARTA employees, said Jacobs is meddling with the board configuration for partisan reasons. The board, he said, should better reflect the MARTA ridership, and a regular patron and a transit union member each should have at least a nonvoting seat on the board.
“That could give a different perspective to decisions that are being made,” Howard said.
Jacobs said the amended SB 155 has a good chance of passing both chambers by Thursday, the last day of the session. Jacobs said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, was a key sponsor of SB 155. Gooch is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee that buried the MARTA bill that called for mandatory privatization of substantial departments at the transit authority.
But Gooch wasn’t so sure. He questioned whether Jacobs’ changes to SB 155 jibe with his original bill, which makes changes to the board structure of the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corp. to accommodate the state’s new 14th Congressional District.
“I don’t know if this is germane,” Gooch said. “I’ll have to look at it.”