As the clock neared midnight on Day 40 — the final March day of Georgia’s General Assembly– House Bill 930, the “Regional Transit Governance and Funding Act,” passed. It embodies the demand for regional problem-solving that has been building for decades.
Metro Atlanta has begun to embrace “regionalism”– the idea that cities and counties work together to tackle critical issues that transcend political boundaries. The Council for Quality Growth, a 33-year-old development industry association working in the Metro Atlanta region, believes that regional prosperity can only be created and maintained with region-wide collaboration. Therefore, the current momentum for “regionalism” in Metro Atlanta must be capitalized upon.
After all, most challenges do not end at city or county boundaries. Transportation infrastructure, carbon emissions, and water quality do not stop at city limits. Even the most prosperous municipalities lose daily workers to jobs outside of that city or county. Cities and suburbs around the country, and especially in Metro Atlanta, are interconnected and need each other to tackle the pressing issues of today. Connecting employers to qualified workers, supporting business expansion and quality job growth, modernizing transportation, and creating a variety of housing options should be the collective focus of regional law- and policymakers.
Experts agree that regions lacking collaboration are costly and inefficient. Competing cities and counties within the same metropolitan area can often make their economies worse, usually at taxpayers’ expense.
Similarly, land use planning in a city or county without multijurisdictional coordination can result in a temporary increase of local revenue (say, by bringing a new shopping center online), but is predicated on the shifting of consumer spending from one jurisdiction to another – not a strategy of sustainably growing the local economy by accentuating and capitalizing on a community’s unique core traits.
Bruce Katz, an urban scholar with the Brookings Institution, notes “a coordinated regional economic development effort can ‘grow the pie’… [instead of] making jurisdictions both the perpetrator and victim of a zero-sum growth strategy.”
Despite some setbacks, including the failure of an ambitious region-wide transportation sales tax vote in July 2012, our Metro Atlanta cities and counties have seized some opportunities to collaboratively address region-wide issues pertaining to water resources, strategic growth planning, and transit.
The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, created in 2001, has implemented one of the most comprehensive regional water management plans in the country to protect water quality, supply, and recreational value in its 15-county, 95-city jurisdiction.
For the past 70 years, the Atlanta Regional Commission (and its predecessor agencies) has served as the 10-county regional convener and planner for critical intergovernmental initiatives. By leveraging the uniqueness of Metro Atlanta’s communities, the ARC formulates a long-term blueprint for the region, incorporating transportation, community development, water resources, aging and health services, and workforce development.
In the past six years, MARTA has greatly improved its financial position and service delivery, with a quarter-billion dollars in cash reserves and an annual ridership of 124 million people. The dedication to restoring its fiscal and operational reputation has created opportunities for future regional expansion into both Cobb and Gwinnett counties.
House Bill 930 is the perfect vehicle to continue the regional mentality that is blossoming once again in Metro Atlanta. The bill lays out a governance structure comprised of appointees from 10 (mostly) multi-county district areas (the “ATL Authority”). The governing body will develop and implement a regional transit plan. This is essentially a roadmap for the provision of transit services throughout the 13 counties.
Each county would have the authority to issue up to a one-penny tax on goods and services (with the exception of Fulton, which can only issue up to a $0.20 tax outside of Atlanta before reaching its cap) strictly for the provision of transit projects and operations within that county. However, the transit projects and operations derived from this TSPLOST require coordination with and approval of the ATL Authority.
Passage of House Bill 930, along with the expanded roles and recent successes of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and MARTA, provides the necessary opportunity to reinvigorate Metro Atlanta’s efforts to think, plan, and act regionally.
As Metro Atlanta continues to grow by nearly 100,000 people each year, the regional momentum that House Bill 930 built upon must be internalized by our local elected leaders and capitalized on.
The Council for Quality Growth is dedicated to working with, and bringing together, our regional leaders to collaboratively address these strategically important issues.
Dentons attorney Steve Labovitz is the chairman of the Council for Quality Growth and Michael Paris is its president and CEO.