LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Voters in Atlanta's most populous suburban county will get another chance in November to vote on a sales tax to fund mass transit expansion.
Gwinnett County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to put the initiative on the ballot, after an earlier vote was rejected in March 2019 by a 54% to 46% margin.
The plan would put a 1-cent tax in place for 30 years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, raising $12.2 billion. It would expand the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority's heavy rail system into Gwinnett County. The plan also calls for the county to build and operate an expanded bus system including four bus rapid transit lines, seven arterial rapid transit lines and nearly two dozen local bus lines.
The new plan is different from the one voters rejected, in part because the earlier plan called for MARTA to operate all transit service in Gwinnett County. Now, the transit agency that serves Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties would only operate the heavy rail line. Expanding MARTA into Atlanta's suburbs has long been a political flashpoint, with Republicans often opposing expansion. Gwinnett County has rejected joining MARTA three times since the agency was formed.
The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, a state agency that regulates and coordinates transit in 13 metro Atlanta counties, approved Gwinnett County's plans July 9.
The debate reflects, in part, Gwinnett County's changing demographic and political makeup. With more than 900,000 residents, the county's white majority is dwindling and voters elect an increasing number of Democrats. County Commissioner Ben Ku said he hopes putting the referendum on the same ballot with the presidential elections will yield a different result than the 2019 vote, which was held in isolation.
"It's a different plan and a different contract," Ku said. "It's important to put it on a November presidential ballot when we can get a majority of Gwinnettians to weigh in on this very important issue."