T-SPLOST’s undecided voters and public distrust

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Public distrust of elected officials is a big reason undecided voters are hesitant to vote “yes” on the Transportation Investment Act referendum on July 31. Many of those responding to a call-out on our transportation blog said they feared the 1-cent sales tax would be extended without voter approval, like the extension of tolls on Ga. 400. (In the T-SPLOST’s case, the law prohibits it.) We hear from some fence-sitters in my column. Also, an opponent and supporter of the T-SPLOST write.

Pointedly undecided

By Tom Sabulis

Opponents and supporters have had their say on metro Atlanta’s transportation special purpose local option sales tax (T-SPLOST). But a harder-to-read swath of the electorate — undecided voters — will have a loud voice in what happens July 31, when residents in a 10-county region vote on a 1-cent sales tax designed to raise $6.1 billion for transportation improvements.

According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s voter-identification research, 24 percent of “high-propensity” — i.e very likely — voters are on the fence. That’s a big number. (A recent WSB-TV poll found 13 percent of respondents were undecided.)

“You don’t want voters going in undecided because usually they vote no,” said Paul Bennecke, a Republican campaign strategist for the chamber’s pro-tax forces, at a recent editorial board meeting at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Given that focus, we solicited feedback from readers who had not made up their minds on the T-SPLOST. A majority of respondents said distrust and accountability — more than the balance of transit and roads on the project list — kept them in the undecided camp.

Several pointed to the extension of the tolls on Ga. 400 as a motivation to vote no, even though the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 states that an extension in this case is prohibited without direct approval of voters.

“My concern is with this turning into another Ga. 400-like Pandora’s box of spending,” said Bobby Norwood, 29, a real estate financier who lives in Midtown. “That toll was supposed to have been shut down years ago. My concern is that we’re just stuck with this tax forever, and that makes it even more unattractive.”

Barry Haney of Stone Mountain said the vote is difficult for him because a unified transportation plan is desperately needed.

“However, an ever-growing distrust of our local political leaders makes me hesitant to give them additional funds to waste,” Haney said. “Whether the corruption exists on the Gwinnett County Commission, in DeKalb [County] or the Atlanta school administration … it seems to be everywhere. Even without the inevitable corruption, I fear the scope of the overall project is too large to be a managed effectively.”

Decatur resident Keith Beaver, 45, said the primary reason he’s undecided is that local governments will make some decisions about how tax revenues are spent.

“There are two proposed projects that will be very close to my residence,” Beaver wrote. “But if the DeKalb County junta decides who gets the money to build it, I have no faith that the process will be transparent. I am not willing to pay a penny more in order to enrich the well-connected. That being said, the improvements would be significant if completed on time and within budget.”

Some readers had specific project concerns.

Marketing and sales worker R.J. Schlitt, 52, who lives off Windy Hill and Powers Ferry roads near the Cobb-Atlanta border said, “For me … this is a lot about taking our current HOV lanes that the taxpayer paid for and turning them into the toll lanes. If any of that is included or possible with any of these monies, then I vote no. Otherwise, I am for improving the roads and the mass transit.”

Marietta resident Steve Greenwood is pro-transit, but he questions the mix of rail and roads on the project list.

“I live in Cobb County, and we just have no good transit options,” he wrote. “We really need light rail (not some poor attempt at a rapid bus system) in the I-75 corridor.

“While I feel the list doesn’t include nearly enough transit, I have to decide whether this bad list is better than doing nothing at all. So far, I haven’t made that decision.”

Vote an investment in the asset of time

By Bill Sengstacken

I think we can all agree that we don’t like to pay taxes and that when we do, we would like to see a good return. That said, we need to be willing to make investments that will allow for our regional economy to grow, that encourage tourism and enhance our quality of life. A “yes” vote on July 31 on the transportation sales tax will address all of these issues.
Time is an asset that we can’t bank or save for later. I run a small business. I am often traveling from one side of town to another. One recent Friday, I left an office in Alpharetta at 3:30 p.m. to meet another client downtown at 5 p.m. To travel the 27 miles between the two points took well over two hours and 30 minutes. I missed the meeting and the opportunity. That cost me a significant revenue source — thanks to traffic.
You have a family. You want to spend time with them. You want to see your son pitch his first Little League game. You want to see your daughter in the school play. But you can’t. You’ve missed a moment — an ineffable moment that can’t be re-created — thanks to traffic.
Businesses want to come to the South. They like how Georgia seems to have a pro-business environment. They like the major universities and the talent pool they offer. But they don’t like the traffic congestion. They don’t like how it makes people late for work. They don’t like how it impacts employee morale. They end up looking at Charlotte, Jacksonville, New Orleans or Tampa — thanks to traffic.
As a major metropolitan area, we need to look long and hard at what is important to our long-term success. We can’t just say “we’re Atlanta” and expect that will win the day. We need to look at transportation infrastructure as a core investment and not as a luxury.
No matter your political leanings, this is simply a crucial investment into the one asset none of us can afford to waste. That asset is time.

Bill Sengstacken, a small-business owner, is president of SengStrategies.

Tax does little to relieve congestion

By Claire Bartlett

The Transportation Investment Act could the biggest tax increase in modern Georgia history. T-SPLOST is rampant with legal issues and poor project selections.

Many have questioned the constitutionality of the T-SPLOST, forcing a regional sales tax pact without authority.

Your county may vote against the referendum, but if a majority from other counties votes for it, you pay the tax.

Our metro T-SPLOST allocates 52 percent ($3.2 billion) for transit, promoting it as a solution for congestion on Atlanta’s roadways.

The brutal truth is it does little to relieve our congestion. Effective transit relies on very high population densities.

A recent Georgia Public Policy Foundation study demonstrates Atlanta is one of the least dense cities in the world. Moreover, rail projects rob money from congestion-relieving road projects used by the majority of commuters.

Rail transit has the highest cost per passenger mile of any form of transportation.

Additionally, although Atlanta’s population has increased, MARTA ridership has declined (-7 percent train, -23 percent bus, per MARTA’s own 2011 financial reports). Less than 5 percent of our commuters use mass transit.

The leadership has not defined how long-term transit operating and maintenance costs will be paid nor what will happen to partially funded projects if the T-SPLOST is not passed for a second 10-year period.

Let’s take a rational, commonsense approach looking at reforms of how Georgia divides federal funds between congressional districts. Get the Legislature to mandate transportation priorities, congestion relief foremost.

Also, seek innovative, cost-effective techniques to advance congestion relief (technology, construction and policy).

Claire Bartlett a high-tech executive in Roswell, is founder of the North Fulton Chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

58 comments Add your comment

Morning Reads for Wednesday, June 6

June 7th, 2012
4:24 am

[...] Metro Atlanta T-SPLOST’s undecided voters and public trust [...]

Bryan -- MARTA Supporter

June 6th, 2012
8:46 pm

@ ga values

June 6th, 2012
9:30 am

Are you an old person that sits in the house all day and complain about Atlanta and MARTA all the time? That probably listens to all the stereo types of both but have never experieced it for yourself because you are scared of the “element?” I bet you stay in Fayette county don’t you?

Bryan -- MARTA Supporter

June 6th, 2012
8:43 pm

@David – Small Restaurant Owner in Sandy Springs

June 6th, 2012
9:26 am

Why don’t you tell them about all the other hundreds of people you encountered that were riding the train? I’ll even give you the 2 drunks on the train. Heck I’ve gone out with friends and took the train and then caught a cab after a couple of drinks. That’s what it’s there for. I guess you’d rather have these people driving on the roads huh? But a drug dealer going to work and you were going to North Springs? They would stand out like a sore thumb! Another round of mess from someone who probably didn’t even really take the train in the first place.

Self_Made

June 6th, 2012
2:32 pm

Brian…they aren’t trying to hear you. They’ve already bought into the myth that MARTA has run itself into the ground with no help from its powerful Northern suburban political opponents in the state legislature…basically starving it on the vine and restricting the use of funds to which, with the exception of N. Fulton, THEY DON’T EVEN CONTRIBUTE!! Also, I don’t roll with the studies that say ‘effective transit requires greater density’. “Effective transit” is what affords WORKING PEOPLE cost effective and time saving options for transportation to jobs that are being spirited away to distant locations within the same metropolitan area. SPRAWL is the culprit here…not crime, not mismanagement, not lack of density. A lot of what I’m reading is about people protecting their options to free ride on existing infrastructure.

Joe_Harris

June 6th, 2012
12:59 pm

The proposed plan for the Regional Transportation Referendum seems to be the best plan that is available at the moment. The plan will not solve 100% of the transportation needs for all people but it is a start in the right direction. The road expansion projects and light rail options that are being presented are the necessary adjustments that we need to make Atlanta more of a transportation friendly city.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

June 6th, 2012
12:18 pm

Don

June 6th, 2012
8:54 am

“There simply is no “Plan B”. There will be no “Plan B.” The legislature couldn’t even figure out how to create an Metro Atlanta transit oversight board.That is a pretty simple task! There is simple no chance of anything better than this – or anything at all- for at least another decade.”

Technically, there’s already a Metro Atlanta oversight board, it’s called GRTA.

GRTA was empowed to do everything that the transit oversight board that many transit advocates are clamoring for when it was created by the state under Governor Roy Barnes back in the late 1990’s in response to worsening traffic congestion and air pollution that had resulted from increasing overdependency.

When the congestion started to get really severe during the population growth spurt of the late 1990’s it was the worst that the Atlanta Region had seen at that time which is why GRTA was originally created with so much power to make decisions on transit and development.

But after nearly a decade-and-a-half of almost complete inaction and even regression on transportation matters, the congestion that seemed so increasingly severe to Metro Atlantans has evolved into seeming relatively normal.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

June 6th, 2012
11:54 am

Angus

June 6th, 2012
10:16 am

“gt and Road Scholar: a 20mpg, 4,000 lb Explorer should pay more per mile than a 35mpg, 3,000 lb Prius………An Explorer contributes more wear and tear on the roads and emits more pollutants……..The per gallon tax is the fairest way to fund roads……..You want a funding solution: raise the gas tax and start distance-based fares on all transit……….The biggest problem with the TSPLOST is that the list gives reason for anyone who wants find a reason to vote no. Suburbans don’t want to their money going to transit, in-towners don’t want their money going to roads………Make user fees the funding source – problem solved.”

All very good points which I completely agree with.

Kramisha

June 6th, 2012
11:26 am

The DOT needs to take care of the routine basics before they ask for more money to fund grandiose transportation projects.

Stuff like synchronizing the traffic signals, upgrading signage, and repainting the road lines. There are intersections all over metro Atlanta where the paint in the turn lanes is so worn and faded it’s practically invisible. If the government can’t/won’t tend to routine maintenance why should I entrust them with additional T-SPLOST money.