ATLANTA - MARTA is warning of major cuts after an immediate loss in what it had counted on in its operating budget. That’s because state legislators just defeated a bill that would have allowed MARTA to have more flexibility on its spending.
For three years, MARTA wasn’t required to follow a rule that requires half of the sales tax it collects be spent on operating costs and half on capital improvements. Hopes that the three-year reprieve would be become permanent were dashed when lawmakers said no to such a bill. So, the 50-50 spending rule returns.
“Really what we are looking for is the flexibility for us to decide how we should use our own money without oversight from a third party,” MARTA board chair Frederick Daniels said.
About $10 million MARTA officials thought could be used for operating costs will be put toward capital improvements. With rising costs such as employee healthcare, adjustments in police salaries and paratransit requirements, MARTA may have to cut services.
“That is absolutely the last thing that we want to do,” Daniels said.
Daniels said they hope to cuts costs by focusing on being more efficient and perhaps doing things such as increasing non-union workers healthcare contributions.
MARTA’s general manager and CEO painted a grimmer picture, telling the MARTA board that 70 percent of MARTA's costs are direct transit costs.
“There's no way to wind up making these kind of adjustments without doing major, major cuts to service. It'll just be a very different agency,” Dr. Beverly Scott said.
The 50-50 requirement will start back with the 2013 budget. The next few budgets going into 2016 will be critical for MARTA to improve its revenue.