Moving MARTA in the Right Direction

Despite the sheet of snow and ice covering everything in Metro Atlanta on Monday, January 10, the General Assembly carried out its constitutional responsibilities to convene on the second Monday in January and inaugurate Governor Deal and new constitutional officers.

I made it to the Capitol that morning courtesy of MARTA. I mention my mode of transportation because, even though it took about twice as long as usual, the trains were running regardless of the weather. This underscores MARTA’s importance to mobility in Metro Atlanta. In fact, I frequently ride MARTA from Chamblee to Downtown Atlanta.

A week that started with relying on MARTA to perform the job you elected me to do ended with another unique MARTA-related development: Last Friday, I was appointed by Speaker David Ralston and the House Committee on Assignments to serve as the new Chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, known as MARTOC.

My other committee assignments for the 2011-12 term include continued service as Vice Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and as a member of three other committees: Transportation, Insurance, and Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight.

I am picking up the MARTOC assignment from Jill Chambers, who represented the adjacent district in North DeKalb, including Chamblee and Doraville, and served as Chairman of MARTOC for six of her eight years in the State House. On her watch, MARTOC went from a committee that did virtually nothing to a watchdog over MARTA’s budgeting and spending practices.

MARTOC’s work of reviewing the budget and fiscal affairs of MARTA will continue. We will not be going back to the days (years, actually) when MARTOC was a do-nothing committee. A review of MARTA’s 2008 to date purchasing card expenses (click for AJC article) will be a starting point for pressing forward with MARTOC’s oversight duties.

Delivery of criticism, however, will be different. It is my intent to have a legislator who serves on MARTOC in attendance at most meetings of the MARTA board of directors, which is the board that makes budget and policy decisions for MARTA. That will begin on Monday, January 24, with my own attendance at a MARTA board meeting. The lines of communication between MARTOC and MARTA will be frequent, open, transparent, and direct.

Furthermore, over the course of 2011, MARTOC is going to undertake a comprehensive review of the MARTA Act, the 1960s state law that created MARTA. This likely will result in changes to the MARTA Act during the 2012 (next year’s) session of the General Assembly. This project is intended to dovetail with the ongoing work of the Transit Governance Study Commission (click for more information), which I helped to create, and hopefully will result in a 21st century MARTA law that yields better value for taxpayers and better service for riders.

MARTA is a state-created authority that is funded directly out of the pockets of Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers through a one-cent sales tax. You and I pay for it. My mission is to make sure that all of us get the best “bang for the buck” out of the MARTA system.

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