The fact that the state of Georgia provides no funding for its largest metro area’s transit system is a well-worn complaint but, until this week, very few people knew why.
In a piece published Monday in Saporta Report, former general counsel for MARTA W. Stell Huie described the agreement the newly formed transit agency quietly made with then-Governor-elect Carter in 1970 to give up state support in exchange for a significant increase in the sales tax proposed to fund it:
“I was informed that Gov.-elect Jimmy Carter was trying to reach me. I returned his call, and […] he told me he was working on the state budget and had some problems with our MARTA plan.
Gov. Carter proceeded to tell me that it was his understanding that MARTA was expecting the state to participate in the funding at $25 million a year, and it was his position that the state could not afford it. While I was trying to process this development and ruing our apparent failure to keep the gubernatorial candidates apprised of our plan, Carter proceeded to say that collection of a ¾ cent sales tax would present problems to the Georgia Department of Revenue, which was to collect the tax.
He asked how we would be if the tax went to 1 percent, and we gave up state appropriations. I knew the numbers, and I told him we would be better off – the additional sales tax would produce more than $25 million a year, and we could sell more bonds based the added revenue.
I also told the governor that we had worked out a very delicate political compromise in the Atlanta region, and I did not know how we could change it. The governor then said one more thing to me, words I will never forget. “Well, Stell, I want you to know that I will support you if these changes are made, but this is not to be my idea. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
File this one under “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”