MARTA riders wary of sales tax

By Steve Visser   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Charles Miller registered to vote at the…

Georgia (Jun 29, 2012) — By Steve Visser


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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Charles Miller registered to vote at the Five Points rail station last week because it's a big election year. He might support the president in November, but not a regional sales tax in July.  

"I don't see any improvements — I just see it building more roads," the security guard from Decatur said of the proposed one percent tax for transportation projects.

Other voters, ages from soon-to-be 18 to 57, from West End to Inman Park and from north to south Atlanta, mimicked a common refrain: "We don't need any more taxes."

They weren't tea party supporters. Those tax skeptics are MARTA riders.

"It looks a little shaky," said Nathan Scott, who was registering voters on behalf of Local 732 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "We got a lot of work to do to convince folks."

MARTA announced Wednesday that it joined with "non-partisan" volunteers such as the transit union and the League of Women voters to register 1,186 Georgians "just in time for the July 31" general primary election, when they will decide on a tax that would bring MARTA $600 million for capital improvements.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed two dozen MARTA patrons, some of whom were registering to vote at booths set up in rail stations. While a handful supported a regional transit tax, most expressed strong reluctance or outright hostility.

Some cited MARTA's fare increases and cuts in services; others said taxpayers in Fulton and DeKalb counties already fund MARTA, and others didn't want so much money going to road projects. But most just opposed more taxes.

Terence Courtney, coordinator for the Atlanta Transit Riders Union, said his group opposed the sales tax because it doesn't do enough to expand MARTA. "The elected officials — and the so-called leaders — are trying to cajole people into accepting this, but I think the people know better," he said.

Political scientist Kerwin Swint, a professor at Kennesaw State University, said he was mildly surprised at the opposition by MARTA riders, especially outside DeKalb County, where some county commissioners and activists have opposed the proposed tax because it doesn't fund rail for south DeKalb County.

"Maybe they think they pay enough riding MARTA," he said. "You have to help voters understand what is in it for them." 



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