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

middle of the road

July 15th, 2012
11:16 am

“Transit requires maintenance in the future…. and roads don’t?”

Sure, roads require maintenance and we have a tax already to build and maintain our roads – it is called the gasoline tax. So why do we need ANOTHER tax to do the same thing. In case you have not traveled much, our roads are quite good compared with other states (except for in downtown Atlanta with their endless metal plates).

middle of the road

July 15th, 2012
11:12 am

“Since 2000, we gained 300,000 jobs but lost 250,000 jobs in the last six years. That decline is unacceptable.”

I presume you are talking about ATLANTA and not the surrounding areas. ATLANTA deserves to lose jobs and businesses. It is a cesspool of crime and poor quality of life (schools, pollution, etc). The businesses and jobs need to get the heck out of Atlanta and move to where people want to live: the suburbs. Then that hour commute is only 15 minutes.

Sprawl? Sprawl is good! Many small cities is better than one big city.

middle of the road

July 15th, 2012
11:08 am

“The only way to get around congestion is alternative transportation.”

NO, the best way to relieve congestion in Atlanta is for the businesses to move out to the suburbs where people want to live – where the air is purer, the schools are better , and the crime is a LOT less.

“The GA400 toll debacle has absolutely nothing to do with this.”

Do you REALLY believe that after paying the 1% extra tax for 10 years, that the politicians won’t say “the people have been paying this tax for 10 years now, they are used to it, let’s just keep it (maybe TSPLOST II)”.

If you are that dumb, I have a bridge in New York that is for sale, it has been in my family for generations…

Steve

July 15th, 2012
10:42 am

Sorry, but I have already voted no. The politicians have proven time and time again they cannot be trusted. There are no guarantees any of this will work. Marta is a joke yet 55% of this is going to mass transit??? If all the metro counties paid into MARTA and it was run by a competent group of people things would look all together different. The Georgia DOT is also incompetent. My confiscating a lane on I-85 to make a toll road says to me this is more about revenue for the state. They don’t care about traffic or congestion. Even the toll authority admits the I-85 toll road will never be profitable..
Sorry but as citizens we need to see some progress for what we have already paid and not all this corrupt good ol boy crap that seems to pervade all of Georgia.

Road Scholar

July 15th, 2012
9:48 am

Oh, I forgot. Many of these projects have safety and air quality implications. So by being against the TSPLOST, you are for unsafe roads, and dirty air! Have you seen, yes seen, the air this summer? Have you “tasted” the pollution? Has you or your child had more problems with their asthma or other health issues? The region will grow; more people will be here (unless you are against having kids or relocating to a better area/jobs), which will add to our dilemma. More congestion, dirtier air, more time lost?

Someone above had issue with the local governments getting 15% of the money for local projects; in their words…a boondoggle! Has that person or you checked with their local government for their project list? Most have one! These project are locally defined. Did you attempt to influence the list? Oh, you don’t want or need anything?

Road Scholar

July 15th, 2012
9:36 am

SAWB:”The TSPLOST project is obviously is too large to be managed efficiently. ”

That’s funny…since Denver and other cities have done it before…Denver has passed the Project list/deadline type of plan 3 TIMES! They managed…are you saying Georgians are incompetent? Are you involved in making it a success?

Bernie:”The Crooks and Thieves are pulling out all of the stops to get this thing passed.”

So we stop doing anything? Who are these thieves and what proof do you have? Why haven’t you filed charges? Did you vote for them?

Don’t Tread On Me:”THERE ARE MANY, MANY ALTERNATIVES TO REDUCE TRAFFIC AND BRING IN JOBS. BUT NONE OF THEM WILL LINE CERTAIN PEOPLE’S POCKET LIKE A NEW TAX THEY CAN BLAME US FOR CREATING.”

You want to reduce traffic? How about another recession or, even better, a depression! Traffic volumes are down now because of our economic times. So is gas tax revenue. People complain about the contractors getting rich! They are private companies that are in operation to make a profit. If you don’t make a profit, what happens….the company disappears. Let the road builders go out of business…that will supply even more lost jobs for your cause and position.

Alenword: So why should we trust you?

Trisha: I don’t ride the Interstate to Auburn, so why don’t we tear that out?

TomD

July 15th, 2012
12:49 am

Billy Payne,
We remember the embarrassment you and Bill Campbell brought upon our city. The Olympics in Atlanta were not declared the best ever, because they weren’t. You and your staff endlessly fought open records requests, and were tarnished with the tactics you used for influencing, or trying to buy the vote, with “gifts” to get the Olympics. You shamefully shared your tactics with Utah, and they got burned, too. Even Izzy, the cheesy mascot, was a joke.

If you are voting yes, I am certainly voting no.

TomD

July 15th, 2012
12:35 am

Billy Payne,
We remember the embarrassment you Bill Campbell brought upon our city. The Olympics in Atlanta were not declared the best ever, because they weren’t. You and your staff endlessly fought open records requests, and were tarnished with the tactics you used for influencing, or trying to buy the vote, with “gifts” to get the Olympics. You shamefully shared your tactics with Utah, and they got burned, too. Even Izzy, the cheesy mascot, was a joke.

If you are voting yes, I am certainly voting no.

Clark

July 14th, 2012
11:29 pm

So Trisha, the only time you’ll ever support a project is if you will directly use it rather than supporting something that helps improve the region?

TrishaDishaWarEagle

July 14th, 2012
10:09 pm

vote NO on T-splost..it is little more than a regional slush fund..honestly, are you ever going to ride the trolly between auburn ave and the kang center? me either,,