The city of Atlanta appears on its way to a successful legislative session, with a series of big and small advances.

Another piece of the mosaic was laid last week when legislation allowing Atlanta airport travelers to drink alcohol as early as 5 a.m. on Sundays passed the House 148-12. Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, told House members that the global traveling community sees such early pouring hours as a sign of sophistication that would increase Hartsfield-Jackson’s allure.

Harrell said that House Bill 261 could apply to any Georgia county or city operating an airport, but it’s primarily designed for the Atlanta airport. Only ticketed passengers would be allowed to drink in airport restaurants and bars from the early morning until midnight on Sundays.

That small step for Atlanta’s worldly image follows other victories favoring the city. The Senate passed a bill allowing the Atlanta Beltline to enter into a public-private partnerships, and now the House will consider the legislation. The House Transportation Committee sent to the  House a proposal to permanently remove the long-standing requirement that MARTA spend half its revenue on operations and half on infrastructure.

With House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, speaking favorably of mass transit and MARTA’s improvements under CEO and General Manager Keith Parker, chances look good for House approval of the bill sponsored by Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, the chairman of the MARTA oversight committee. The Senate also appears favorable.

The city could gain an even larger victory if Gov. Nathan Deal’s FY 2016 budget plan goes through the Legislature with a provision allowing the World Congress Center to borrow $23 million for parking near the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium. The House last week approved the budget proposal with the parking facilities intact, and now the Senate will consider the spending plan.

If Roberts succeeds in getting Deal to agree to setting aside $100 million in bonds for mass transit, MARTA could benefit further, although the 128 transit systems across the state would share in that money.

The city also stands to receive a significant share of the added $1 billion a year in state transportation funding proposed under Roberts’ House Bill 170, which would convert the state’s present gasoline sales tax and fuel excise tax into a 29.2 cent per gallon fuel excise tax.

After the GOP gained control of the Legislature several years ago, Atlantans perceived a hostility toward the inner city whose skyline is graced by the Capitol’s gold dome. But this year’s small and large gains shows a new appreciation for the city’s urban attractions among Republican legislators. Although none of the measures have yet achieved final passage, they’re beginning to pop up like springtime crocuses.

Mayor Kasim Reed’s good relationship with Deal marked a turning point in the city gaining favor among lawmakers. The legislative advances gain force Reed campaigns for his $250 million infrastructure bond referendum in March.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently ran a series asking if Atlanta is slipping behind other Sunbelt cities, but passage of the bond package along with the legislative flowering could signal a new era of progress for the city once touted as the “next great international city.” Soon, Atlanta could hear those toasts again, even at 5 a.m. Sundays at the airport.

 

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