Moderated by the AJC’s Tom Sabulis
Imagine Spaghetti Junction twisted with geographical realities, snarled by political choices and paved with billions of taxpayer dollars. What you get is metro Atlanta’s T-SPLOST referendum. Controversial? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely, say many experts and officials. Will it pass? We’ll know next year. Below, we offer the latest thoughts from leaders on both sides of this issue.
It’s an investment in region’s future for jobs, preserving quality of life.
By Chuck Warbington
At a recent event, Chris Leinberger, a real estate and planning expert at the Brookings Institution, said something that caught many by surprise: “Atlanta,” he declared, “is a city that really shouldn’t exist.”
He continued to explain that it was the foresight and leadership of the city and the region to invest in transportation that put Atlanta on the map. In the 19th century, it was investment in rail and freight. In the 20th century, it was the airport, now known as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and our interstate road network.
If Atlanta wants to continue to prosper and be a jobs leader in the southeastern U.S., Leinberger contends, investment in a regional transit system will be the next driving factor. He said transportation needs to be viewed with the understanding that the goal is economic development and that the means moving people and goods.
The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable recently took a major step forward in another potential milestone decision in our future regarding transportation investment. Through the leadership of the executive roundtable and its chairman, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, a list of $6.14 billion in transportation projects was unanimously approved, one generally considered to be balanced from both a geographic and mode of transportation perspective.
The blend of projects uniquely meets the needs of the growing outside-the-perimeter counties by proposing much-needed roadway improvements in the outer reaches of the suburbs while beginning to expand transit into the denser portions. There is also a significant amount of investment aimed at supporting the transit and interchange needs of Atlanta’s inner urban core, which in turn benefits all of the surrounding communities.
This will be the first time in metro Atlanta’s history in which transit and road funding will marry, providing a true transportation funding plan connecting our region. I applaud the executive roundtable in finding that sensitive balance. I also challenge residents and businesses to review the project list carefully to ensure your community’s transportation needs are met.
Metro Atlanta’s future success hinges on voters approving the referendum in 2012.
Over the past 20 years, Georgia has consistently ranked 49th in investment for transportation while at the same time ranking top tier for population growth. The result: traffic congestion, loss of quality of life, and ultimately loss of businesses and jobs. Meanwhile, surrounding metro areas such as Charlotte have made significant investment in transit and transportation and use Atlanta’s congestion as a marketing tool to attract business to their community.
The investment that this referendum for transportation provides will send the message that “Metro Atlanta is Open for Business.”
Many people want to “look back” on the lack of investment or a perceived mismanagement of transportation over the years. I urge businesses and residents alike to “look forward” in investing in our future for sustainable communities, better quality of life and new business.
As a seventh-generation resident of metro Atlanta (Gwinnett County), I like our prospects for success with a new investment in transportation that will bring new job growth to our community in the near future.
Chuck Warbington is the executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.
It’s taxation without representation and misleads on projects.
By Debbie Dooley
Back when Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War captured America’s attention, metro Atlanta voted to purchase a private bus operator and establish the MARTA system.
In November 1971, Fulton and DeKalb County voters barely adopted a permanent, 1 percent sales tax to finance MARTA buses with plans to build a rail line. In exchange for votes, proponents got MARTA to initially drop fares from 40 cents to 15 cents.
But while DeKalb and Fulton said “yes,” Gwinnett and Cobb counties rejected the referendum. And under the terms of the vote, Gwinnett and Cobb residents were not obligated to pay for MARTA if they did not join.
Forty years later, we have quite the opposite proposal put forth in a referendum slated for next year by a Republican-controlled General Assembly. In metro Atlanta — where the stakes are highest and the greatest revenue would be generated — counties that could vote “no” for a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax such as Cherokee, Rockdale or even Gwinnett would still wind up paying millions of dollars to finance MARTA.
And they would have never had a specific vote on whether they really wanted to be part of a MARTA system.
That’s because the T-SPLOST would be used to send hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for MARTA upkeep, planning projects and a new rail line to places such as Emory University. It is bundled with other transportation projects as well.
This is one of the many reasons why we believe the T-SPLOST is bad idea. It is taxation without representation and is not a transparent vote for residents who are being sold a package of transportation proposals.
If you want to ask metro Atlanta voters to join MARTA, then make it an honest and forthcoming vote on MARTA alone — not one bundled in a referendum that includes bike paths, sidewalks and airport and road projects.
Advocates will soon launch a slick, multimillion-dollar campaign to try to persuade us that sometime in 2012 we should vote ourselves a 10-year, 1 percent increase in our sales tax in order to ease congestion. But 85 percent of the funds collected in each county will be redistributed elsewhere — not spent in the county in which it is collected.
That means if DeKalb County raises hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade and wants to spend it on filling potholes, synchronizing lights or providing turn lanes, it is out of luck. It has to send the money to the region for redistribution on an already-determined project list. That list will be finalized in October.
Georgia is in an awful bind right now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month our state was 50th in job creation in July. When business and consumers have to pay an additional tax, it will only damper our economy — and job growth — even further. Jobs are created by the private sector; they are not created by a new tax or government spending. President Barack Obama’s stimulus is a testament to that.
The tea party recognizes that Atlanta has a congestion crisis and improvements are needed in other parts of the state. But reaching for taxpayers’ wallets in the greatest economic downturn since the Depression is not the way to accomplish it.
Instead, we suggest Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature stop playing games by trying to shop the date of the T-SPLOST vote to ensure passage and instead think creatively.
We can reduce traffic by embracing corporate and individual tax credits for telecommuting as technology is the path to the future. We also should embrace more public-private partnerships including toll roads and the private management of highways, as Gov. Mitch Daniels did in Indiana.
Throwing money at a problem shouldn’t always be the first remedy. Instead, the T-SPLOST issue should open the dialogue of how to address transportation in a 21st-century platform, not one that taxes us more and returns us to the past.
Debbie Dooley is national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. She lives in Dacula.