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MARTA urges special session
Transit system wants to call legislators back to avoid service cutbacks

ATLANTA - MARTA's board on Monday called for a special legislative session so the Atlanta transit system can avoid reducing service to six days a week.

Officials with MARTA are grappling with a $24 million budget shortfall and had asked the state Legislature to pass a bill allowing them to tap into capital reserves to continue operating seven days a week. But lawmakers wrapped up their business Friday without approving the legislation.

MARTA's chief executive officer blamed the Legislature for failing to act.

'There is no reason for this train wreck to have to happen,' Beverly Scott said at a news conference Monday. 'There is no need to end up having the economic devastation and the personal hardship that is going to wind up happening to thousands of people.'

MARTA officials said cutting back service would make it harder for workers to make it their jobs and would also be a devastating blow to tourism and convention traffic coming into the city.

Gov. Sonny Perdue would have to call lawmakers back to Atlanta for a special legislative session. His office on Monday declined to say whether he would do so. But spokesman Bert Brantley noted that MARTA officials never pressed their case with the governor during the 40-day session.

On Monday, however, MARTA officials requested a meeting with the governor.

MARTA had been seeking more freedom in how it spends its own money. MARTA has a $65 million reserve for capital projects but is prevented by state law from dipping into that fund to help offset a $24 million shortfall.

The state Senate passed the bill they sought but it failed to move in the House. The legislation eventually became tangled up in a showdown over transportation funding that ended in gridlock on the session's final day.

Most of MARTA's funding comes from a sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties. But those revenues have plummeted in the weak economy.

MARTA's board met Monday to discuss the budget crunch. They are expected to vote on service cutbacks at a meeting in June. Any changes would take effect after the July 1 start of the 2010 fiscal year.

Scott said that reducing service one day a week would fundamentally change MARTA.

'It would not be MARTA or regional transit service as we know it in the Atlanta region today,' Scott said.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on Monday called the MARTA cuts 'an issue of great significance.'