AP NEWS

Boyce: Transit vote likely to be pushed to 2022

February 23, 2019

Cobb commissioners will reconsider a resolution Tuesday that asks lawmakers to extend a state-imposed deadline to create a potential special transit district from December 2019 to December 2022.

If the deadline were to be extended, county voters may not weigh in on transit until just weeks before that closing date, as Chairman Mike Boyce now says a November 2022 vote on the issue is likely.

“I’ll be honest, I wanted it in 2021, but a lot of members of the board had a concern about having a special election in an off year, that we wouldn’t get enough people or we wouldn’t have the people come to the polls that we would get in a regular election year, plus they didn’t want to spend the $400,000 to $500,000 for a special election,” Boyce said Friday.

House Bill 930, signed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal last year, allows 13 counties in the metro area to levy a new sales tax of up to 1 percent to pay for new transit projects. The bill contained a special provision unique to Cobb: the county could carve out a special district and only levy the new sales tax within that district.

A decision on whether to create the district and where to draw the district’s boundaries rests with a committee comprised of all county commissioners and the 21 state lawmakers whose districts include parts of Cobb. But the new law only gives that committee until the end of this year to make that decision.

A resolution commissioners had been scheduled to vote on in January would have asked lawmakers to amend HB 930 to give the committee until the end of 2021 to make a decision, but the measure was tabled over concerns that such a date would tie the county’s hands in reaching a decision.

The amended resolution coming to commissioners Tuesday extends Boyce’s previously proposed deadline of December 2021 by one more year — a change Boyce said would allow a vote as late as the 2022 general election, which he foresees the county will ultimately decide on for such a vote.

A day after Tuesday’s vote on the resolution, Boyce is scheduled to speak about transit and the need to extend HB 930 at a meeting of the Cobb Legislative Delegation that will be held at noon in room 415 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta.

Boyce has said in the past that a transit vote this year is not feasible, as the county needs time to learn from residents — through town halls and public hearings — their desires regarding transportation and transit.

A 2020 transit vote, he believes, would jeopardize a potential vote to renew the county’s 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.Boyce plans to call for a November 2020 referendum to extend the county SPLOST by five years. The 2016 SPLOST program, which will last six years, will expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

Commissioners will be presented at their work session Monday afternoon with a preliminary timeline for consideration of a new five-year SPLOST program that would begin in 2022.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid, however, says she would like to see a transit referendum earlier than 2021 or 2022 despite the potential for a vote to run concurrent with a SPLOST measure.

“We had a study performed to assess Cobb County’s possible support for transit expansion via a referendum, and the outcome of that study showed that Cobb County would be in support of it and would be successful in a referendum that occurred in an even-numbered election year,” Cupid said.

But if residents want transit now, Cupid says, “then we should be looking at 2020 and not 2021 when all the analysis showed it would be successful in an even calendar year.”

“I’m personally not in an agreement with that sentiment that you cannot have two referendums on the same ballot, even though I do recognize that this was a concern of the cities, and for some time there was discussion about pushing SPLOST to 2019, and I can’t understand why that wasn’t considered,” she said. “To me, there just seems to be a reticence towards having a transit referendum considered in a presidential election in 2020.”

The Cobb Board of Commissioners will vote on the resolution at their 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday.