As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday, changing attitudes about mass transit in suburban communities paved the way for the passage of transit legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last week.
Those changing attitudes – brought about in part by hundreds of thousands of new residents – provided cover for lawmakers to pass House Bill 930, which would allow 13 metro Atlanta counties to raise sales taxes for transit construction, if their voters approve.
As state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said when Deal signed the bill, “The people were ahead of the politicians on this issue.”
Nonetheless, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond believes the politicians – especially Republican politicians – deserve some of the credit.
Until recently, the Republican-led General Assembly had long been hostile to MARTA and transit generally. But that has changed in recent years as MARTA’s financial standing has improved and lawmakers eager for economic development watched companies like State Farm build new facilities along transit lines.
Beach was an early advocate among Republicans, and Thurmond, a Democrat, likened him to “Nixon going to China” – a reference anti-communist President Richard Nixon’s efforts to improve relations with that communist country.
“It took someone in the majority party to really begin to shift the narrative and the thinking,” Thurmond said of Beach. He also cited House Speaker David Ralston and Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash – both Republicans – for their support of the transit legislation.
“I served in the legislature in the mid-‘80s. MARTA was a four-letter word,” Thurmond said. “To have lived long enough to see the transformation that’s occurred, it’s amazing and encouraging at the same time.”