20-somethings and T-SPLOST

Younger generation takes on transportation tax

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Transportation weighs heavily on metro Atlantans’ quality of life, and their future. With Election Day on Tuesday, we reached out to the younger generation to provide their thoughts on the transportation special purpose local option sales tax. The proposed 1 percent levy would raise from $7.2 billion to $8.5 billion, depending on whether inflation is included, for transportation improvements in the 10-county area. Two 20-somethings write in favor of the referendum, and two write in opposition.

There are four short columns below. Commenting is open following them.

By Lawrence L. Gellerstedt IV

College students and young professional leaders of Atlanta, this is our time.

Officials from across the Atlanta region have aligned — something that doesn’t happen often — to provide us with what may be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to directly impact our quality of life.

We are staring at the single largest investment opportunity in the recent history of our state: a multibillion-dollar infrastructure proposal.

Vote “yes” on a 1-percent sales tax and more than $7 billion of investment will be made in the Atlanta area over the next 10 years. Pollsters say Tuesday’s vote will be close. Pundits question whether we’re ready to take such a big step. But the pollsters and pundits are not counting on us.

There are opposition leaders out there such as state Sen. Chip Rogers, who will tell you that the tax won’t fix traffic congestion.

I’ve worked on transportation issues for the past four years at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and I know Rogers is wrong. The project list is a mix of transit and road improvements, and congestion on the improved roads is cut by an average of 24 percent.

More important is the economic impact of regional investment on this scale.

That’s the point Rogers seems to miss. An investment of $5 billion won us the Olympics, put us on the global map and likely played a large part in creating the jobs your parents had and your ability to find your first job.

Similar transportation investments in cities such Dallas and Denver have shown similar results.

Both those cities have surpassed Atlanta in the recruitment of young professionals, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

They, too, had debates about congestion relief but, at the end of the day, the result was economic development and job creation.

Lawrence L. Gellerstedt IV, 28, is a second-year MBA candidate at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

By Bill King

Some assail the T-SPLOST as an unnecessary tax and boondoggle. The Sierra Club opposes the plan due to its emphasis on road funding over transit projects, its treatment of MARTA and lack of regional governance structure.

Its analysis is largely correct. The T-SPLOST project list is far from perfect. But in a democratic system, few things are. When dealing with diverse groups and interests, compromise is necessary.

When trying to get some scraps of progressive policy through in a deeply conservative and anti-government state, compromise is even more necessary.

However, the Sierra Club’s analysis is off target in its assertion that there is a Plan B, which could include a restructured multimodal tax, a parking tax and other revenue mechanisms tied to travel.

While those may be more equitable and effective solutions, the idea that the Legislature will adopt them is hard to imagine.

Even a casual observer of Georgia politics can tell you that if voters reject the T-SPLOST, the Legislature will not come back with a more progressive, transit-heavy Plan B. It likely will view the vote as a rejection of what mass transit existed in the project list and steer away from it.

T-SPLOST foes argue that worthy projects will still find a way to be funded and built without the need for a tax, in a sort of market-demand argument.

Without a funding mechanism, though, and some level of coordination for the more ambitious regional projects, it is hard to see how the state will build and pay for many of these projects.

Rejecting the T-SPLOST would send a terrible sign to the rest of the country that metro Atlanta has no will to improve transportation.

Bill King, 27, an Atlanta native, is incoming co-editor of the Carolina Planning Journal and a graduate student in city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

By Michael Harbin

Proponents of the T-SPLOST like to point to the next generation of Atlantans as overwhelmingly in favor of the sales tax.

They use Charlotte, Denver, Dallas and Portland as examples of why a mass transit system is so important to young people.

Atlanta is competing for young adults, and T-SPLOST proponents say we must implement mass transit as these cities have done.

Ironically, The Daily Beast, the Newsweek affiliate, researched the “25 Worst Cities to Be Young,” based on the highest unemployment and debt among young adults. Each of these pro-transit cities made the list; however, you won’t find Atlanta on this list. The AJC reported in March that according to a study by Arizona State University, our “transit-starved” city ranked second in job growth.

AJC PolitiFact tripped up paid T-SPLOST consultant Jeff Dickerson by ruling his claim that “according to a national survey, transit ‘ridership’ among people age 16 to 34 increased 40 percent between 2001 and 2009,” as only half true. The number using transit stayed nearly the same.

To wit: “The recession has played a role in reducing the miles driven in America, especially by young people. People who are unemployed or underemployed have difficulty affording cars, commute to work less frequently, if at all, and have less disposable income to spend.” (Transportation and the New Generation, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, April 2012).

Young adults are driving less because they have no choice, not because of a strong desire for transit.

I’m not opposed to finding valid options to improve Atlanta’s traffic mess. However, I am opposed to hiking taxes to raise $8 billion — half of which is for a mass transit system that proponents have failed to show will decrease traffic congestion, is self-sustainable or will provide ongoing jobs.

Michael Harbin, 25, a risk management adviser, lives in Fayetteville.

By Michael Williams

Listening to the architects of the legislative boondoggle known as the Transportation Investment Act, one would think that I and the rest of the millennial generation are the ones bending their arms back and demanding that this monstrosity be passed.

I hate to burst their bubble, but it doesn’t take a lifetime of experience to understand that our problem in Atlanta is simple: too many cars on too few arterial roads.

Why would we bet billions of new tax dollars that an unsustainable mass-transit system such as light rail will reduce cars on the road, when HOT lanes, carpool lanes, toll roads and climate initiatives have all failed?

Supporters claim that it provides metro Atlantans with relief from our traffic problems, even while the Atlanta Regional Commission admits that nothing on the project list will significantly reduce commute times. Opponents point out that 52 percent of the $8.5 billion T-SPLOST revenue will be spent on transit projects, at a time when MARTA is 80 percent subsidized by the taxpayer and deeply in debt, with a declining ridership of barely 5 percent of the population.

A wise Founding Father once wished that, if there was to be trouble, it would happen in his time, so that his children could have peace.

By the time this 10-year tax will allegedly end, I expect to have children of my own. I hope to raise them right here in metro Atlanta.

Instead of a debt-ridden transit system that requires more of their money every year, I hope I can hand down to them a Northern Arc, an outer Perimeter and other useful traffic options that will actually reduce traffic congestion and improve their lives and mine.

Instead of wasting our one shot to solve the traffic problem in metro Atlanta, let’s send the politicians back to the drawing board for two more years and demand real traffic solutions for the future.

Michael Williams, 26, of Marietta is a board member of the Georgia Tea Party.


58 comments Add your comment

middleground

July 27th, 2012
10:41 pm

Electronic voting is the end of liberty.

Not Blind

July 27th, 2012
7:57 pm

@ Drew. As a 20 something you don’t realize [ yet ] that the goobermint already takes more of your hard earned money than they should. Far too much of it gets spent on useless and needless pork which is why they are always hitting you for more and more of your paycheck. They need to make do with what they have instead of finding new ways to divert taxpayer funds to their cronies.

Roy

July 27th, 2012
7:38 pm

Mass transit in a city like Atlanta is a farce. Everyone outside the “transit’ area subsidizes too few riders in the transit area. The only cities in the world that come close to paid-for “maass” transit are London, NY, Toronto and Tokyo. All the rest – including LA – fail to pay for “maass” transit.
Back to Atlanta. The sprawl here is the problem. The solution was in Mike Luckovich’s recent graphic, and that is … when all the businesses move out to where their employees live – problem solved.
Until then, Atlanta regional residents will dump any tax proposal that does not solve “their personal traffic problem”. Get specific, cut the BS on the Beltway, eliminate any projects that do not address regional transportation PROBLEMS and try again after this defeat.
After the defeat, consider an increased tax on gasoline for ROAD IMPROVEMENTS and fix the real transportation system.

Toby

July 27th, 2012
6:58 pm

It seems that the arguments in favor here were put better. The latter ones don’t seem as intelligent, while Bill King’s seems the most reasonable. Compromise is important in many cases & his argument has persuaded me, for better or worse, though I hope for the better!

Clark

July 27th, 2012
5:32 pm

@ Drew: If it’s voted in, then they’ will be forced to pay up too.

Jack

July 27th, 2012
4:54 pm

This is not the time to raise taxes. This is the time to cut waste.

Drew

July 27th, 2012
4:21 pm

I am a twenty something who is on the fence about T-SPLOST but what I find ironic is the congestion problem is largely the result of suburban Atlantans commuting to the City for jobs. But when it comes time to pay for those roads that THEY congest, no one wants to pay up. The reality is, if you don’t want a 1.5 hour commute, don’t move to Gwinnett County or Woodstock or Cumming. No road improvement is going to change your commute substantially.

Clark

July 27th, 2012
2:16 pm

A tax isn’t racist just because you disagree with it.