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Greg Bluestein

Atlanta voters to decide on sales tax hike for MARTA projects

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A MARTA train heads north from Buckhead to Dunwoody. A half-penny sales tax hike could push the line north to Alpharetta.

A MARTA train heads north from Buckhead to Dunwoody. A half-penny sales tax hike could eventually push the line north to Alpharetta.

Let the MARTA battle begin. The Atlanta City Council on Monday unanimously voted to schedule a referendum in November to decide whether to hike city’s sales tax by a half-penny to generate $2.5 billion over the next four decades for a MARTA expansion and other transit upgrades.

The decision comes weeks after Gov. Nathan Deal signed a measure that authorized the tax hike, which would amount to the largest expansion of MARTA in the system’s history.

It will kick off an aggressive campaign by supporters who cast the expansion as nothing short of essential to the city’s long-term health. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who will lead the campaign, has called the expansion a potential turning point for the city – a “point where we chose to take control of our future.”

Residents of Atlanta already pay a 1 percent MARTA sales tax, and the increase would bump the sales tax rate in the city to 8.5 percent from 8 percent. The projected revenue from the hike, which would last through 2057, could include upgrades to the bus network, an expansion of the Atlanta Streetcar system or other transit to the Beltline and new MARTA stations.

City legislators are also considering a second referendum to raise the sales tax by another half-penny to pay for sidewalk, bike and road projects for the next five years. That could bump the city’s sales tax up to 9 percent – and draw the focus of anti-tax advocates who warn it will drive shoppers and businesses to neighboring counties.

The transit agency’s leaders, meanwhile, are gearing up for a push next year to allow voters in parts of Fulton and DeKalb counties to weigh similar referendums.

Check out a list of potential MARTA improvements here.