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Figuring out Cobb County’s changing position on transit


A fascinating gathering of Cobb County’s political and business leadership occurred on the state Capitol campus Monday. The object: To begin hashing out the county’s changing position on transit.

We’ll have more on this later today, but some first thoughts:

Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce brought lunch for the 30 or so people crammed in the room: fellow commissioners, state lawmakers, business types and lobbyists.

The meeting followed last week’s passage of House Bill 930, a bill to establish a system of governance and funding for the operation of a mass transit system in as many as 13 metro Atlanta counties.

The bill originally would have created a special transit district in Cobb funded by a penny sales tax. That would have negated the need for a countywide referendum – still a tough thing when it comes to mass transit in Cobb. But state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, the most powerful member of the Cobb delegation pushed through an amendment eliminating the special district.

Which now means the transit debate in Cobb will likely be an all-or-nothing affair.

The session included much blunt talk of risk, both political and economic. Boyce channeled his business community’s demand for a change in philosophy: “I’m trying to send a message that Cobb is serious about this conversation involving transit,” he said. “We’re going to find a way to do this. I’m confident of that.”

For most in Cobb’s legislative delegation, simply saying no to mass transit is no longer tenable. But sovereignty remains an issue. Here’s what Ehrhart had to say:

“If nothing else, I just want to make sure when Cobb County’s taxpayers – from south Cobb to north Cobb, east and west – are asked to be part of a regional solution, that that regional solution is not just imposed upon us from, say, Fulton, DeKalb and the city. (Presumably, he meant Atlanta.)

“We have our own priorities….I want to be sitting at that table as equal partners. I’ve heard too many times, I’ve heard that mantra that, ‘Well, we’ve paid into the system for all these years – we really don’t care what Cobb and the outlying counties think.’ That’s not a way to get involved in a collaborative organization.”

MARTA’s annual budget, serving three counties, now runs to $461 million a year or so. Cobb currently spends about $13 million for a bus system that carries 3 million riders annually. That represents about a tenth of a one-cent sales tax, noted state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.

“We have a tenth-of-a-penny transit system. I think there’s a desire to do more. I think there’s consensus around this room that we need to do more,” Setzler said. But he hinted that his support would remain fractional.

“I would tell you that a 30-year tax with a full penny for transit, given that we’re at a tenth of a penny right now, just seems as an order of magnitude out of scale,” Setzler said.

Like we said, more on this later.

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One hour before this tete-a-tete on transit, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, had announced that he would not seek re-election, ending a 30-year career in the state Capitol. His wife, Ginny Ehrhart, will attempt to replace him in the House.

In recent years, Earl Ehrhart has raised much dust as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees university spending – and thus has much control over university policy.

Today’s edition of the Marietta Daily Journal helps explain what this means. Kennesaw State University has just issued some suggestions on the use of pronouns for students who don’t identify as strictly male or female. From the MDJ:

 While he is a fan of KSU interim President Ken Harmon, Ehrhart said the trouble with KSU is that “the activists are running wild up there and that needs to come to an end.”

Ehrhart said there was a move to roll out “this pronoun stuff” last year.

“We killed that a year ago when Sam (Olens) was going to do it,” he said.

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Last year, Nikema Williams, the vice chair of the Georgia Democratic party, won a special election for the state Senate seat given up by Vincent Fort. She has been sworn in, but still has some people to convince.

On her Facebook page, she recounts an encounter with a Capitol staffer that went something like this when she tried to file a resolution with the secretary of the Senate:

Senior lady: I keep forgetting you’re not a child.

Williams: I’m a senator.

Senior lady: Well, you’re a child to me.

Williams: No, I’m Senator Nikema Williams to you. What’s my resolution number?

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We’ve got some memorial service details for Merri Brantley, the director of governmental affairs for Georgia Gwinnett College. Brantley died last weekend of a heart attack.

A celebration-of-life service will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at GGC Student Center. Visitation will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, and 6 to 8 p.m., at H.M. Patterson and Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel located at 4550 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30319. 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation for the Merri M. Brantley Scholarship Fund.

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The offshoot of Bernie Sanders campaign for president endorsed Democrat Stacey Abrams bid for Georgia’s top job. Our Revolution announced late Monday it was supporting Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader. Nina Turner, the group’s leader, said Abrams has “the leadership and the vision to fix the growing inequality between people experiencing poverty and those at the very top, end private for-profit prisons, and protect reproductive rights.” (Greg Bluestein)

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