County commissioners want more time to decide how to approach a potential new sales tax for transit and plan to vote on a formal request to lawmakers asking for the extension Tuesday.
At issue is a law the Georgia General Assembly passed last year creating a new regional transit board, called the ATL, to oversee new transit projects and promote coordination between metro counties’ transit systems.
The new law also allows 13 counties in the metro area to levy a new sales tax of up to 1 percent to pay for new transit projects. The bill contained a special provision unique to Cobb: the county could carve out a special district and only levy the new sales tax within that district.
A decision on whether to create the district and where to draw the district’s boundaries rests with a committee comprised of all county commissioners and the 21 state lawmakers whose districts include parts of Cobb.
However, the bill only gives that committee until the end of this year to make that decision. A resolution commissioners are slated to vote on Tuesday asks lawmakers to amend HB 930 to give the committee until the end of 2021 to make a decision.
Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce has said he wants to delay a potential vote on a new tax for transit until 2021 for multiple reasons.
First, he wants to give the county time to put together a plan and a list of potential transit projects. Second, he wants to get as much public input as possible and make sure Cobb voters know what they’ll be getting in exchange for the new tax.
Finally, he doesn’t want to jeopardize the renewal of the county’s 1 percent special sales tax for capital projects, known as SPLOST. The existing SPLOST expires at the end of 2021, so Cobb commissioners are eyeing a 2020 referendum asking voters to extend it.
“If they extend the special district provision in the legislation, that fits in very nicely into the 2021 referendum,” Boyce said in an interview last week.
Republican lawmakers, such as state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, and Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, have generally agreed with the county’s wait-and-see approach to a potential transit tax.
“As far as what Cobb County is going to do, what the commission is going to do and whether or not it has anything to do with us (as legislators), I think that getting a year or two of watching how this thing operates will be very helpful as we try to figure out if we have a role in this in the future,” Reeves said last month.
Democrats, such as Reps. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, and David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, are more hesitant toward a delay.
Last month, Anulewicz pointed to the results of a survey commissioned by the county that showed 59 percent of likely voters favor creating a new sales tax to fund transit and 61 percent believe the county should spend more than it does now on transit.
“We know that it's not just a hunch that we're going on,” she said. “People in Cobb County overwhelmingly favor, not just improving trans-it, but they are more than happy to pay extra to have better transit.”
Commissioners meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the county government building on Cherokee Street in downtown Marietta.