T-SPLOST pros and cons

The transportation sales tax vote is two weeks away. An advocate of mixed-use, walkable communities explains how voters acting with a regional mindset can kick-start our economy. On the other side, a policy analyst says a sales tax is not the best funding option, and that transit expansion should not come at the expense of fixing our highway network.

Tom Sabulis is today’s moderator. Commenting is open below following Baruch Feigenbaum’s column.

By Jim Stokes

Living and working in Atlanta has been a wonderful experience for me. For some 40 years, my wife and I have called Atlanta home — raising our family, devoting ourselves to careers and volunteering in our community whenever we can. The city is part of our family fabric. I have watched Atlanta grow and evolve.

This year, I see metro Atlanta standing at a crossroads. Its evolution — potentially, its economic recovery — is the centerpiece of discussion this summer as residents contemplate a ballot referendum to increase the sales tax by a penny for a broad spectrum of transportation options.

By now, most folks are familiar with the July 31 transportation referendum on a regional project list, which will improve our mobility in its many forms.

Some have voiced concern that the measure doesn’t go far enough; others say it goes too far. Some say it should fund more roads; some say it should fund more transit.

At the referendum’s core, though, is transportation choice. Not everyone will use the transit options, and others will never appreciate that an intersection improvement can be vital to a suburban community.

An important part in this vote is the creation of a “regional mind” that recognizes that traffic and transit don’t stop or start at one city or county line. Transportation is multifaceted. In Atlanta, historically, transportation has meant cars and roads. But trends across our country, many as a result of a changing economy, demonstrate that walkable communities are key to economic improvement.

To me, the transportation referendum is all about reinvigorating our economy by creating the future of Atlanta — many walkable, mixed-use communities. Some communities already have.

Smyrna has revitalized its downtown, as have Suwanee, Woodstock, Norcross and Alpharetta. Young and old alike flock to Virginia-Highland and Midtown. Decatur is a walkable community made more successful by its access to transit.

In the late 1990s, high-end outer suburbs contained most of the expensive housing in the United States, as measured by price per square foot. Today, the most expensive housing is in high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Research has shown that both young millennials and baby boomers want to live in walkable, mixed-use downtowns, or pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods or suburban town centers.

The good news is that there is great pent-up demand for these walkable metro Atlanta neighborhoods, particularly those served by transit.

The July 31 transportation referendum provides us an opportunity to give our city a chance to evolve — as we have always done in this great town.

It’s a chance to grow our economy by creating construction and operations jobs, improving our neighborhoods and property values, and providing our residents the transportation and transit choices that a large, regional metropolitan area deserves and demands.

Jim Stokes is executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition of Metro Atlanta.

By Baruch Feigenbaum

With Georgia ranked 49th in transportation spending, the question should focus not on whether the state needs to increase investment in its transportation network, but what is the best, most efficient and politically realistic way to do so.

Given this framework, there are reasons for voting for and against the Transportation Investment Act.

Metro Atlanta needs to solve its congestion issues: Residents waste a significant portion of time — and money — stuck in traffic. Transit service is inadequate; frequency and coverage are below cities of similar size.

Competitors, including Charlotte, Dallas and Houston, have comprehensive transportation strategies, while other Southern states such as North Carolina and Texas have approved local sales taxes for transportation.

Funding transportation infrastructure with a sales tax is not optimal, primarily because such a tax has no relationship to the usage of the transportation system.

It is politically easier to increase a single tax, especially a tax where tourists contribute a significant amount, but it is arguable that a mix of taxes and user fees would be a better solution.

Transit is important for metro Atlanta’s future and deserves some regional and state funding.

But increasing transit service, a laudable goal, should not come at the expense of developing and maintaining a quality highway network — the overwhelmingly preferred travel mode in the region.

Regional projects such as improving the I-285 and Ga. 400 intersection and bringing MARTA to a state of good repair are excellent, deserving projects. But several projects have purely economic development benefits; others have purely environmental benefits.

The biggest problem is the significant dollars allocated to rail projects. Fixed-rail transit is most effective in an extremely dense region, which Atlanta is not.

Compared to rail, bus capital costs are substantially lower, and buses can be easily moved if development patterns change.

Without new revenue sources, the state also may not have enough funds to maintain roads, let alone widen or build new ones. Another vote can take place in 2014 and a tax take effect in 2015, but these are two more years of underinvestment for Georgia. Meanwhile, the advantage goes to competing regions such as Charlotte, Houston and Dallas.

Around the state and in Atlanta, voters have justification for approving or rejecting the penny transportation sales tax.

These are the important questions voters must weigh as they consider the benefits and the costs.

Baruch Feigenbaum is a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and a transportation analyst for the Reason Foundation.

30 comments Add your comment

Virgil

July 19th, 2012
7:54 am

The T-SPLOST tax is at heart a sustainable community tax; my concerns with it are how it is being used by the non-elected managers. If passed, here in Grady County we will pay this tax, but, if I understand it correctly, a regional team will decide where the money goes: it may not even be used in Grady County, but instead used for a project in a neighboring county, that we in Grady do not approve of!

The problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of will; the average commuter never asks “what can I do to make the travel situation better?”, but asks “what can the government do to make my life easier?”. When the government makes your life easier it costs money, and unfortunately our tax system is not use and service based…people who will never ride MARTA should not be paying for the system!

Joe_Harris

July 18th, 2012
11:34 pm

Because of how residents in Atlanta are regionally dispersed it is imperative that we have a transportation plan that addresses roadway improvements as well as transit options. With a project list that is almost 50/50 in regards to transit options and roadway improvements, I would say this is one of the best plans to address the needs of the city.

[...] T-SPLOST pros and cons Atlanta Journal Constitution (GA) – July 17, 2012 The transportation sales tax vote is two weeks away. An advocate of mixed-use, walkable communities explains how voters acting with a regional mindset can kick-start our economy. On the other side, a policy analyst says a sales tax is not the best funding option, and that transit expansion should not come at the expense of fixing our highway network. Share and Enjoy: This entry was posted in Blog, SGA News Clips. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

Geoff

July 18th, 2012
8:22 am

Enter your comments here

John Galton

July 17th, 2012
10:48 pm

Road Scholar and MM, blind faith in government is touching but misplaced. If one thinks capitalism and corporations are evil, but government officials are paragons of virtue, one is delusional. As Jonah Goldberg put it recently, “Here’s the left’s confusion. Capitalism is not inherently sinful, capitalists are — but so are socialists, progressives, conservatives, libertarians and every other label we apply to human beings.

When I hear people complain about the evils of capitalism, it’s like they think there’s something especially corrupt about capitalistic institutions, as if every other institution — including government itself — isn’t prone to the same basic shortcomings. If you don’t think socialists or bureaucrats are just as likely to rig the rules to their benefit, you’re quite simply ignorant of history — and current events.

The market is supposed to penalize economic mistakes. The electorate is supposed to punish incompetent or venal officials. Civil society is supposed to police malice and buffoonery. And the government is supposed to punish criminals.

The key to all of this is the rule of law and the minimization of what Edmund Burke called “arbitrary power.” When institutions — any institutions — become immunized against the legitimate forces of accountability, it should be seen as a scandal.”

Vote No and force officials to confront a new reality — the people are paying attention now and the old ways of doing business are done and dusted.

MM

July 17th, 2012
7:26 pm

Thirty years ago the public was told that government was the problem not the solution. We have paid an enormous price for buying into this corrosive train of thought. What we’ve gotten, especially here in the South, has been an unrelenting stream of politicians who have no interest in good government. The public’s ability to identify a constructive politician, never that good to begin with, has deteriorated to nothing. The TSLOST is an object lesson for the state’s political and business elites about the neglect of government. Sure, you got low taxes but now what a mess.

Chris

July 17th, 2012
6:59 pm

Restoring public trust in government is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue. It is not a problem which hinges on any either/or proposition. It is an opportunity for all of us to create a more vital and unified state. A NO T-SPLOST vote is Georgia’s opportunity to be better than we currently are. A NO vote is our opportunity to start to speak as a community in the hopes of cleaning up our local government and its processes … But a YES vote (to me) would be for the business as usual that created this mess of poorly planned development which is metro Atlanta.

Meanwhile, we can instead work to fashion our funding mechanisms to be financially supported by those who stand the most to gain from them. We could look more to other states in the region (and beyond) for our financing benchmarks, as well as for better examples of financing methods. We should not resolve to going down a path of using regressive taxation to finance development projects.

We all can see there is much our city and region needs, too, besides this hugely expensive referendum that may not even reduce traffic congestion in the long haul! So I say .. before such a huge development project and for the sake of all our needs: Let’s first rebuild our political infrastructure.

Ron

July 17th, 2012
4:42 pm

When is enough Enough!

For our government, both local , state and federal, it is never enough. I remember back in the eighties the Savannah council lobbied for a 1 cent sales tax for some project, then it was extended and not sure if it ever went away but my bet is it didn’t. Now the state wants T-Splost. You may say well it is only a penny and you are right but think about this:
I pay the federal government social security that in all likely hood I will never see a dime and they get to tax that too.
I pay Medicaid, so why do we need free health care for every one seems I already pay for them.
I pay income tax, sales tax, utilities tax on power, the phone, internet and cable.
I pay taxes on money I save, invest or spend.
I pay taxes on food, medicine, gas and services I use.
I paid sales tax on the vehicle bought in 2004 and continue to pay taxes on it every year. This year I reached a new benchmark, I have now paid as much advalorum as I paid in sales tax. At some point I will most likely pay taxes to equal the original value.
I also pay property tax on my home every year which includes school tax, I had one child in school for less than a year in 2005, but I must still pay. If you break the total property tax bill down you would just shake your head, are you kidding me?
Last but not least is a property tax bill because I have a aluminum boat parked in my yard, I guess that is a parking tax. Don’t know why this doesn’t apply to my car, oops just gave them another idea.
People, think long and hard about approving another tax, it will never go away. The government are users, they use the people up then cast them aside to look for another victim. There are too many people gaming the system to live a good life at others expense. I am not against helping my fellow man but the government is using them to create wealth and power for themselves. Soon they will knock at our door, just as the Natzi’s and communist did because you have than your fair share.

When it comes to the government it is never enough

Road Scholar

July 17th, 2012
4:30 pm

Chris: I disagree. The state house is about 70 % Repub. They have been in control since 2002- 10 years or more. They have eliminated all opposition and don’t even include Democrats on any of the committees.How long does a state have to be in one party’s control before they are responsible? Remember, they said that they would not be like the Demos in committee appointments, goals, programs etc. They would include all…the anti Tom Murphey operations party. Then Sonny, who hadn’t counted on winning, won! They are doing the same BS the Dems did; but their electorate reveled in the power.

Case in point: President Obama has been widely criticized…by mostly Repubs …for the state of the economy. He has been in office for 3+ years. When he was elected, the economy was still tanking. Right? Job lose was still occurring and the market was still tanking. People expected him to”turn the sinking ship around” on a dime.They contend it is HIS fault the economy sucks. (obviously the Congress and Senate has not helped much) . The same people who say he should have us back to “normal” are now saying our state leadership is not trusted.

So which is it?

Chris

July 17th, 2012
3:23 pm

wow I did it again!! lol. In prior post I meant “No, Road Scholar, it is NOT necessarily a Republican thing!” … sorry