T-SPLOST voter intimidation?

Big business moving workers

We’re three weeks away from voting on a 1-cent sales tax to fund $8.5 million in transportation improvements in metro Atlanta. (Early voting is open now.) A conservative leader writes that Atlanta companies are intimidating their employees to vote ‘yes’ on July 31 and tax themselves. A Coke executive says better transit and roadways will help workers save time and keep local businesses humming.

Tom Sabulis is today’s moderator. Commenting is open following John Brock’s column below.

By Sadie Fields

Voter intimidation is wrong no matter who does it.

Voter intimidation can be as extreme as when members of the New Black Panther Party stood out front of a polling place in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008 wearing paramilitary garb, with one carrying a nightstick.

In our own backyard, voter intimidation is taking a more subtle approach as exhibited by the Metro Atlanta Chamber regarding the upcoming T-SPLOST vote. The business community is calling employees into staff meetings to encourage them to vote for the tax increase. An employee of any company would certainly feel intimidated and perhaps believe his or her job is on the line if he or she didn’t toe the company line on the tax hike.

Sam Williams, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, is leading the charge in this effort to squeeze employees into voting themselves a 10-year tax increase for a transportation plan. It is also a plan that is not cost-effective, one that is too focused on mass transit and will do little to ease congestion.

Williams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that several member companies are working on turn-out-the-vote efforts, including hosting employee meetings to brief workers on the plan and offering time off to vote. The article goes on to say businesses are committed to turning out an extra 50,000 voters on July 31 when Georgians vote on the T-SPLOST referendum.

This reminds me of the tactics you see in states such as Wisconsin or Ohio, where unions used intimidation to repeal measures to keep the size of government in check.

Voters just don’t like to be told what to do, and they certainly don’t like a bully.

Apparently, the $8 million advertising campaign to push the sales tax increase may not persuade enough voters to tax themselves for another decade. Thus, we have a chamber and business community resorting to “suggest” to employees that they vote themselves a tax hike.

Georgia prides itself on being a right to work state, staving off efforts of organized unions for decades. Now, it seems a consortium of businesses with interests at stake want to be the unofficial union in Georgia. And just like any union, it will be at the expense of taxpayers.

Encouraging employees to vote in order to ensure a free society is a laudable exercise. Encouraging employees to vote in a certain way is an exercise in power. If you control a man’s livelihood, you have power over his will.

An issue that cannot succeed on its merit should fail. Employees should not fear reprisal if they choose to exercise their constitutional right by expressing an opinion contrary to the powers that be.

The power play displayed by the metro chamber is a violation of the prin­ciples of a free society. If a vote is sovereign, it must mean voters have the right to set the agenda, discuss the issues and then directly make the final decisions.

I will be voting “no” on the tax increase July 31 and encourage fellow Georgians to do the same.

Sadie Fields is the former chairwoman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia and Georgia Christian Alliance.

By John Brock

One of the most important lessons a region, its leaders and businesses learn is that transportation is critical to prosperity. If goods and people can’t go, a city can’t grow.

That has always been true for Atlanta, which was actually founded on transportation. It was a railroad hub that flourished and became the booming capital of the New South, thanks to city leaders with the foresight to build an international airport and to capitalize on the federal interstate system.

Our fabulous transportation system made Atlanta the envy of others, and it paid off: Major companies such as UPS, Newell Rubbermaid and NCR moved their headquarters here.

Our status as a transportation hub was the magnet for companies such as Caterpillar, AGCO and Kia Motors.

Time is money, and that’s never been truer than in today’s 24/7 world. The executives who relocated here, bringing thousands of jobs and adding to our tax base, needed to be able to move quickly to capitalize on business opportunities — whether it was around town, around the country or around the world.

From a Coca-Cola Enterprises and a Coca-Cola system standpoint, it is critically important for us to have a transportation system that allows employees to get to and from their homes and offices efficiently.

And today, they cannot. Just as important, it is key that trucks carrying Coca-Cola products get these products to and from stores in an efficient system.

Unfortunately, what once built us up now holds us back: Transportation has become a detriment to Atlanta’s success. I frequently hear, “We would love to move our company to Atlanta, but the traffic …”

Traffic has become a bad joke — on us.

Consider these depressing numbers from the 2010 Texas Transportation Institute Annual Urban Mobility Report:

The average metro Atlantan spends 43 hours a year stuck in traffic — that’s five work days.

Atlanta’s daily peak period travel time is the worst in the nation at 127 minutes.

Atlanta’s total cost of traffic congestion is nearly $2.4 billion annually. That’s money lost.

The regional transportation referendum gives us the opportunity to turn those numbers around, to make sure that Atlanta continues to thrive. Your “yes” vote July 31 will notify business leaders across the nation that Atlanta is serious about resolving its traffic woes, and that we are taking important steps to remain attractive to commerce.

This regional funding mechanism, which expires in 10 years, will allow us to invest $8.5 billion in 157 projects that will enhance transportation in our 10-county metro area, improvements that will save us thousands of hours and billions of dollars while building metro Atlanta’s income and tax base.

When you vote, I urge you vote “yes.” Follow the lead of Atlanta’s far-sighted leaders who, decades ago, innately understood that transportation is crucial to the prosperity of our region.

John Brock is chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.

80 comments Add your comment

Lance Lamberton

July 10th, 2012
10:23 am

Mr. Brock:

Thank you for “sharing” your perspective. Thanks to your input, I will now accept the Pepsi challenge.


July 10th, 2012
10:22 am

To those who say, “if not this, what?” here is an answer:

First, build the long-scrapped outer perimeter. It will create tremendous relief for I-285 and all other existing highways,

Second, recognize that the costs of rail – any new rail – are unacceptably high in terms of both dollars and environmental impact. Rail using more resources, not less, moves fewer people at higher cost.

Third, get serious about insisting on telecommuting. Most office workers today can perform very acceptably working from home. This keeps cars off the road, improves productivity, and improves the quality of life for employees. Even two days a week is a major help.

Fourth, redefine our future and accept that Atlanta’s size and scope is more than sufficient for the long term. We do not have to have ongoing massive growth; let’s keep the size of this city in check to match the resources we have.

Just some common sense, which is in short supply for those that support the T-SPLOST and its reliance on 19th century technology to solve 21st century problems.


July 10th, 2012
10:18 am

Companies (and their employees) that will benefit from the improvements and who are trying to educate their employees are not intimidating them. If a firm stated that you must vote yes or lose your job…THAT is intimidation. Has anyone ever wonder WHY the various Chambers of Commerce, and so many firms that are NOT involved in transportation construction as supporting this?

I do have a question for this group…I keep seeing in print comments about “corrupt politicians” who will be enriched by this plan. Exactly who are these politicians and how does a plan that spells out exactly what projects and roughly how much money will be spent on them = corruption and enriching said politicians?

Its all nice to demagogue the TSPLOST because you disagree with it..but some actual facts would be nice to go along with your demagoguery. There are some legitimate issues with the plan that one can disagree with…but making up stuff or spouting off outright lies is just plan silly.


July 10th, 2012
10:13 am

I’m employed at a major Atlanta company, and yes, there is pressure to vote yes.
It’s wrong, and the T-SPLOST is wrong. Anyone who tells you that the solution to our transportation issues and future growth is a streetcar line is, to be blunt, an idiot. This city had streetcars; they died because they were impractical, slow, cumbersome, and got in the way of traffic.
The term ‘transit’ is being shoved down our throats by those who believe that trains – smelly, nasty, dangerous, carbon-hogging trains – are the solutions to our long term transportation issues. Trains and streetcars are nothing but 19th century technology that will hog electricity usage, create no real meaningful job growth, and require public support forever.
Rather than the hundreds of millions for a streetcar, why not just build a dedicated bus lane and run natural gas fueled buses on it with near zero emissions????
While the ‘transit’ backers are more than willing to tear up a neighborhood for a streetcar line or a rail line, they abhor the same process for a highway or, Lenin forbid, a bus line.
I’m in my early 60s, and I’ve lived in Atlanta all my life. I’ve seen trolley lines that blighted the downtown sky go away, ridden long discontinued passenger trains on local routes around Georgia, and flown all over the world from Hartsfield.
I’ve seen the cities with ‘transit’ – Portland, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo – and I’ll take Atlanta, just as it is right now, any day. In addition, I’ve driven the same route to work on I-285 for nearly 20 years, and today’s traffic is far better than it was in the mid-90s.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

July 10th, 2012
10:01 am

@ Terry and Chris Sanchez

By your comments together it is basically “too late” to do anything (Terry) and the plan we have is not good enough an they need to go “back to the drawing board” (Chris).

So because for the last few decades of bad leadership not investing in our transportation structure, we should just say screw it and keep falling backwards? We should do nothing at all? WOW! And if there is a problem with the plan we have now, what needs to change? Basically a 50/50 split with roads and transit and over 150 different projects in the 10 county region. What needs to change since this won’t fix traffic? Not one NO voter can ever do that but talk about how messed up the project list is.

This list is not only about fixing traffic, it’s about maintaining our current infrustructure and economic growth. All things that will improve the region as a whole. If you people think the project list is going to take 30 minutes off of your drive time and that’s why you are voting no then you are just out of touch. Even if we had the 60 billion dollars needed to completely improve roads and transit it still wouldn’t take 30 minutes off your drive time. NO voters please come back to reality… thank you!

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

July 10th, 2012
9:31 am

I don’t get how — as Sadie put it — encouraging people to vote yes, calling meetings to inform employees of it’s benefits, and giving time off for employees to vote is intimidation on them. Maybe all of you NO voters are intimidated because companies are informing people of the facts and benefits versus just telling lies and using tatics to distort the true.

When will people accept that this is not only about fixing transportation but about boosting our economy as well. Why fix the roads and add transit and not worry about the economy as well? Not worry about development and adding jobs to our area? What would be the point if there were no jobs here? Improving roads and transit will not only keep jobs here but make us competative to add new ones. I don’t get it because the companies here are telling people that this is important. It won’t be until the company that these NO voters work for leave and downsize and they don’t have the jobs anymore. Then you won’t have to worry about widening roads or improving transit. You won’t have no where to go, other than the unemployment office!

Transportation Supporter

July 10th, 2012
8:30 am

I don’t think anyone would deny that we have traffic that is unacceptable pretty much all over the metro Atlanta region. We are running a 2012 city on a 1990’s highway system and a 1970’s rail system. This referendum represents the cheap version of what really should be done to create a comprehensive transportation network including roads, rail, trails, airports, sidewalks, etc. My question to everyone against the referendum is this: If not this then what?? If you can’t find any benefit in voting yes then do you realize what that means for the future of this city? Reality check: GDOT funding will be 80% on maintenance projects without this additional revenue. 20% of GDOT’s $2 billion annual budget is $400 million split between 7 districts (metro Atlanta is one of those districts) is a little over $57 million for new construction. Do the math, this does not bode well for a metro of 5+ million people.


July 10th, 2012
8:29 am

Lots of hype. Few facts. The 3 transit lines will carry 20,000 commuters daily. This is less than 1/2 of 1% of those paying the tax. Mass Transportation ????? More than one BILLION ($ 1,000,000,000 ) will be “exported ” to buy Choo-Choos and rails. Removing all of this tax money from the local economy for the benefit of very very few is not going to help recovery or businesses. Why support a Polish iron worker or a Chinese welder when our jobless teachers,cops,firefighters,etc. cant afford to buy homes or food ?? Maybe because the Pols, lobbyists,consultants,contractors are more interested in donations (pay-offs,kick-backs,influence, power, position, pelf ) than actually helping solve our problems.- Lots of hype. Few facts.


July 10th, 2012
7:48 am

First off, companies “offering” time off to vote is a hoot, considering that they are required to do this by law. If the CEOs in this area want their employees to spend less time on the road, how about offering telecommuting or flexible schedules. Even better, move your headquarters out of downtown or buckhead, or offer your employees cost effective ways for them to live closer to your place of business.

Coke Drinked

July 10th, 2012
3:03 am

I can drink Pepsi or better yet, pure water.
Folks, we the people are tired of giving our money to corrupt Politicians to get rich on and waste it.