Sunday issue: T-SPLOST referendum

Hirers have the right idea

By the AJC Editorial Board

Metro Atlanta business leaders have drawn flak for urging employees and the general public to back the transportation sales tax. But if they don’t know the high cost of gridlock, who does? Read the three essays and comment below.

It’s impossible not to know by now that metro Atlanta faces a momentous choice. The marketing machine for the transportation sales tax is winding up as election day nears.

High-powered messaging on everything from yard signs to billboards has rankled some who complain that the business community is unfairly marshaling clout and dollars to overwhelm grass-roots opposition to the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST.

Business leaders have been criticized for using their bully pulpit to inform workers or, worse yet in the minds of opponents, urge employees to vote “yes.” Critics argue that amounts to coercion.

We’ll acknowledge the sincerity of these concerns. We also believe they are misplaced.

On July 31, voters will be free to do what they’ve always done — vote their conscience as they stand alone before balloting machines. Our cherished right to vote yea or nay in private without fear of repercussion remains unchallenged. Which, in effect, means that all of the marketing tactics, employee information meetings and letters from the big bosses amount to just another information source that voters can use. In that sense, the T-SPLOST campaign is akin to the letters from political candidates that are starting to fill mailboxes.

In our view, the more facts out there, the better.

It’s also worth analyzing more deeply the role of metro Atlanta’s business leaders in the campaign. While their actions have opened them up for criticism, it is noteworthy and, we’d argue, commendable that they’ve stepped up.

Their work is in keeping with the legendary Atlanta businesspeople of old who played a large part in guiding, if not outright pushing, our great metro toward the leading region that we’ve become.

Which isn’t to say that the counsel from our captains of commerce has always been sterling. Yet they’ve remained courageous enough to step up on big civic issues.

When warranted, this newspaper has been critical of some of their actions, and we plan to keep doing just that when the situation calls for it.

Yet, Atlanta’s commercial leaders live here too. Traffic snarls no doubt make them late for meetings or otherwise frustrate their lives in multiple ways, just like the rest of us. So it makes sense that they’ve gotten involved in the only potential solution now on the table.

That’s a stunning insight into just how severe our problems really are, given that the private sector is usually among the loudest cheerleaders for ever-lower taxes. Consider then how dire our transportation plight must be to drive leaders of companies large and small to, in effect, proclaim, “Please tax us!”

Businesspeople know how to hunt down and calculate costs, whether they lurk in spreadsheets or ride aboard trucks wasting fuel on a locked-down I-285. If analysts’ calculus indicates that the positives of tax-powered infrastructure improvements outweigh the red-ink cost to them and their customers, then who can legitimately claim that the T-SPLOST’s cost would hobble job-creating businesses or their workers?

To argue otherwise is to invoke visceral reactions, not sound quantitative vetting, in our view.

All of the above is worth consideration as voters prepare to make their choices.

As citizens slog through all the T-SPLOST data and information out there, they should not forget the advocacy of Atlanta’s business community and the dire factors that led them to this point. Our job creators deserve at least that much.

Andre Jackson, 
for the Editorial Board

Big claims, huge costs, little proof

By Billy Wise

This month, citizens can vote on a new 1 percent sales tax created by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. The TIA is supported primarily by state and local politicians, and by companies that stand to benefit directly by building the projects.

Gov. Nathan Deal has offered to campaign for local officials who will support the TIA tax. Local politicians are promised a share of $1.08 billion for local projects. Could this be the reason for their strong support of the TIA?

MAVEN and Untie Atlanta, coalitions of chambers of commerce and engineering, design, construction and transportation equipment supply companies, have reportedly amassed a war chest of $8 million to support passage.

The manner in which the TIA is to be implemented mitigates against any substantial impact on traffic congestion. Taxpayers are assured by politicians that proceeds will be spent only on a pre-approved list of transportation projects prepared by the regional roundtable. Here is where the implementation problems begin.

The roundtable first prepared an initial project list that was a wish list of every project anybody could think of. After validation by the Georgia Department of Transportation, the roundtable executive committee trimmed the initial project list to an affordable size.

The projects on the initial list were never subjected to a comparative cost-benefit analysis to determine which ones offered the most congestion reduction for the tax dollars spent. Thus, the final list is still little more than a wish list.

Fifteen percent of the tax proceeds are to be distributed to local counties and municipalities, with no requirement for any kind of project list. There is no way of knowing what impact, if any, those projects will have on reducing traffic.

Of the remaining $6.1 billion, 55 percent is to be spent on transit projects and 45 percent on road projects. This seems odd given that only 5 percent of total annual miles traveled by the average metro Atlantan are provided by transit.

MARTA offers a prime example of the problems with rail transit systems nationwide — declining ridership, huge operating losses, and staggering construction cost. Between 2000 and 2010, while the metro population increased 20 percent, ridership on MARTA decreased 10.9 percent.

Another rail line is proposed from Lindbergh Station to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This 4.5-mile section will cost $700 million to build, a cost of $155.6 million per mile. A bus transit system on existing roads can be created for $2 million to $3 million a mile. Why are taxpayers being asked to pay 60 times the cost of a bus system and then be forced by yet another sales tax to subsidize its operation forever?

The business community and politicians tout the TIA tax as the answer to traffic congestion. Taxpayers are underrepresented in this issue and are being bombarded with specious claims and promises.

The TIA process leaves much doubt whether the expenditure of taxpayers’ money will have any measurable effect on reducing traffic congestion and commute times.

Billy Wise is a taxpayer advocate who lives in Duluth.

Atlanta’s future requires bold step

By Billy Payne

In a few short weeks, London will host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Sixteen summers ago, Atlanta stood tall and proud to welcome the world as we hosted the Games of the XXVI Olympiad.

The Centennial Olympic Games produced many stirring moments. Who can forget the emotional and dramatic image of Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies? Or witnessing the historic double win of Michael Johnson flashing his gold-colored shoes as he became the first Olympian to win the 200- and 400-meter races? Or cheering Kerri Strug’s gutsy vault that captured the gold medal for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team?

Those 17 days in 1996 also left a permanent imprint that accelerated Atlanta’s growth from the capital of the New South to a global capital. Many legacies of the Atlanta Summer Games remain today: the Olympic Village Dormitories and Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech; the athletic facilities at Morehouse College; Turner Field was our Olympic Stadium. And, more importantly, the amazing spirit of our 53,540 volunteers.

Our city and state benefited for over a decade from the “Olympic dividend,” with 64 foreign consulates, international exposure and several hundred thousand jobs created from new and homegrown businesses. We were known as “Hotlanta.”

During the last several years, our shining city has lost some of its luster. Since 2000, we gained 300,000 jobs but lost 250,000 jobs in the last six years. That decline is unacceptable.

I believe in our city and its ability to reinvent itself. I have great respect and confidence in our leadership. We all stand on the shoulders of giants who faced obstacles and made big decisions that were not without conflict. Leaders like Mayor William B. Hartsfield building the airport and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moving Atlanta through the civil rights movement.

Today, many people don’t remember the years of public debate, political conflict and funding required to win the Olympic bid. It wasn’t easy, but because we are Atlanta, we persevered.

We need another major economic dividend like the Olympics. The Centennial Olympic Games invested almost $3 billion in our region, and we saw solid results for everyone. The regional transportation referendum is an Olympic-sized investment that will build more than $8 billion in badly needed transportation projects.

Over 200,000 citizens gave input to the 21 mayors and county commissioners who picked the 157 projects that are legally tied to this historic vote. We will get home earlier to our families, thousands of jobs will be created and our quality of life will be greatly improved.

Atlanta needs bold leadership to restore our momentum and to reclaim our place as one of the world’s great cities. We need to unify our metro area to jump-start our economy by voting “Yes” on the July 31 regional transportation referendum.

Billy Payne was president and CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

52 comments Add your comment

WeNeedAlternatives

July 14th, 2012
10:00 pm

But Carole,
How does that take care of me and right now? That’s all I’m interested in….
Others don’t count, and the future – well, that’s the future, so who cares? We should think only of ourselves… and for now.
(OK… satire switch off.. sorry, I couldn’t resist…)

It is a pity our politicians can’t sit down and really come up with something good, but as my granny always said, a bird in the hand….

Alenworn

July 14th, 2012
10:00 pm

No, NO, NO!!! vote no people this is a big money grab by politicians. Dont trust anything they say, just take a look at the .gov gone wild expenses by the Beltline overseers. We already have an income tax we dont need a TN style sales tax.

Carole

July 14th, 2012
9:44 pm

Atlanta and the region won’t thrive in the next decades unless public transit is updated and expanded. The up and coming next generation is already here and according to the Wall Street Journal, 88% of them want to live in a walkable urban environment with access to public transit.**

Employers know that the best and the brightest go to the cities that can offer the lifestyle they are looking for. An unwired, car dependent city is already on the losing end and cannot afford to wait any longer to build the appropriate infrastructure that supports smaller homes, walkable destinations and public transportation.

T-Splost isn’t the perfect answer, but it will have to do since that bastion of great thinkers in the legislature (/snark) is unable to actually sit down and write legislation that is more workable.

(Trying again without the link.)

** S. Mitra Kalita and Robbie Whelan, “No McMansions for Millennials”, Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2011

WeNeedAlternatives

July 14th, 2012
9:17 pm

Ahhh the Debster……

Please stop wasting bits….especially on accusations that really aren’t important.

Just remember – corporations are people too. Now just who came up with that? …. I wonder….

Debbie Dooley

July 14th, 2012
7:30 pm

The AJC is extremely biased when it comes to T-SPLOST. It is like they are on the payroll of CTM. Not suprised to find out that COX Enterprises gave $250,000 to the effort to pass T-SPLOST. Yet this newspaper claims to be un-biased. You guys need to put the fact yoiu donated $250,000 to the T-SPLOST effort as a disclaimer of every article written about T-SPLOST.

Just look at this segment. Two pro T-SPLOST articles and one negative. You are going to lose a lot of subscriptions over your biased coverage.

WeNeedAlternatives

July 14th, 2012
5:09 pm

Clark,
It’s unfortunate that people misuse statistics (and most folks’ total lack of understanding of math and percentages) to argue a point. A 16% increase…. which is a percentage of a percentage… is very hard for most folks to grasp, so they just look at the face of it and go “Wow! 16% That’s horrible!” That does make it easier for groups to throw up smoke screens on the real facts, as opposed to telling people how things really are.

That kind of behavior and misuse of numbers is usually a result of drawing a conclusion, and then hunting for collaborating evidence. Not exactly the scientific method….

If we have to wait for corruption to go away to do anything about traffic, I guess all will be well after the second coming…..

Clark

July 14th, 2012
4:32 pm

A 17% increase in sales tax? On a $100 grocery bill, that’s 6 to 7 dollars, or to put it another way, one dollar extra. Or on a $10 purchase, that’s 10 cents extra. I fail to see how anyone who already spends a large amount, will be so heavily negatively affected by this vs. the potential benefits. All of you like to claim that we should just stop corruption or use the money that’s there. Well what’s your plan for that? There will ALWAYS be corruption, or at least the accusation of it by people who don’t have their sugar hand delivered to them by the people they’re accusing, and they will always be the most vocal.

WeNeedAlternatives

July 14th, 2012
4:31 pm

Angus … you hit it on the head! (sadly)

WeNeedAlternatives

July 14th, 2012
4:29 pm

Hey, Don’tTread…
you don’t have to shout … simmer down …
You might burst a artery.

BTW – I don’ t like those one sided web sites you are pushing – it takes work, but reading the law, following the process, participating in the project selection discussions, and studying the project list are the only effective ways of making up your mind

… but it sure is easier to parrot what some others say on a one sided web page!

Angus

July 14th, 2012
4:23 pm

Chris – this is what bugs me: you say you support your senator, but he’s to blame for the TIA as much as anyone else – and now he opposes it? WTF? If he and the rest of the legislators would do their jobs – and be prepared to take the heat for tough decisions – we wouldn’t have to vote on this stupid list.

No list will ever pass here. You believe less should go to transit, I think more should go to transit. You’re not going to change my mind, and I’m not going to change yours. We’ll be having the same discussion in two years. And, likewise, metro Atlanta will vote ‘no’ again to the TIA, but ‘yes’ again to their local reps.

I don’t see how we can get out of this rut.