State funding of roads vs. public transport racist?

A recent cover article of the local free left-wing weekly, Creative Loafing, tried to make the argument that, among other things, state funding of road construction over MARTA development is proof of racism in the Georgia legislature.

Some researchers who study MARTA believe the transit system got as bad as it did deliberately. But most of those people don’t fault MARTA. They blame contemptuous attitudes in suburban counties and a disregard among lawmakers for MARTA’s woes. The combination of those two things have created a funding shortfall that has been the transit agency’s ball and chain for decades.

The result is that, while the state spends billions of dollars to ease the commutes of mostly white suburbanites, service cuts at MARTA have forced Atlantans like Howard to spend more money on taxis, spend less time with their families, and wait longer and more often for a bus or a train that always seems just around the corner.

Bullard, the Ware Professor of Sociology at Clark Atlanta University and director of the school’s Environmental Justice Resource Center, … holds the contentious opinion that race is at the root of Atlanta’s faltering transit system.

So the idea is that because the state funds roads but not MARTA, and more black people ride MARTA, there’s a racist conspiracy going on. There are a number of flaws in this argument, but the one I haven’t seen addressed in subsequent letters published in the Loaf, is this state funding issue.

For the most part, the state doesn’t fund road construction, per se. It’s more of a collection agency for the user fee to use the roads. In the same way that a rider on MARTA pays $1.75 to ride on MARTA, someone driving pays 10.5 cents/gallon in state gas/sales taxes to use the roads. That’s the money that the “state” then spends on road construction and maintenance. In addition, there’s a federal 18.4 cent tax or user fee for the same purpose. (GDOT)

So, if Creative Loafing wants the government to “be fair” and fund MARTA in the same way it funds roads, then we should pass a MARTA tax applied to each fare/monthly pass and then spend that money on building rail lines, buying buses, and otherwise improving MARTA. The fact that MARTA user fees only cover 1/3 of it’s budget, while driver user fees cover the majority of road costs shows this racism argument is specious.

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