Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, stood in the rotunda at the state Capitol last week and brandished a piece of paper for the TV cameras.
The paper contained a pledge, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal back when he was campaigning for office, in which Deal promised the taxpayers of Georgia that he “will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
So Dooley had a question: How can the governor square a pledge to oppose “any and all efforts to increase taxes” with his statements urging voters to approve a regional one-penny sales tax to raise money for transportation? Isn’t it pretty obvious that by offering such support, Deal violates his public commitment?
As she noted, other Republican leaders — Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, Senate President Tommie Williams, House Speaker David Ralston — have signed a similar no-tax pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based pressure group.
If they intend to honor that pledge, Dooley argued, Deal and his colleagues not only must speak out against voter approval of the sales-tax referendums scheduled for this summer. They must cancel the referendums altogether by repealing the law that put them on the calendar. And if they don’t, the Tea Party movement will throw its energy and organization skills into defeating those measures at the ballot box.
David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, followed Dooley to the podium. Standing before a portrait of James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, Pennington argued strongly that the regional approach to transportation funding should be abandoned as unnecessary.
“We already have one of the best ports in the country, the best system of interstates, the best airport and a great system of universities,” Pennington said, ticking off a list of Georgia’s strengths. Given those advantages, all we need to launch another economic boom is comprehensive tax reform and a continued commitment to avoid any tax increases.
However, while listening to Pennington rattle off his list of all the things right with Georgia, I had some questions of my own:
How did the Port of Savannah — a subsidiary of the Georgia Ports Authority — happen to develop into one of the busiest, most efficient ports in the country? The short answer is, through the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. In fact, the governor has proposed selling $46.7 million in state bonds this year to further deepen and expand the port. He is also seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid for the project.
How did the interstate highway system lauded by Pennington happen to get built, if not by taxpayers? And what would Dalton’s renowned carpet industry be without the access to world markets offered by I-75, which runs right through the mayor’s town?
Yes, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the world’s busiest airport and also one of its most efficient, generating an annual economic impact of roughly $20 billion. But it too was built by public investment, and this spring, a new $1.4 billion international terminal is scheduled to open at the airport, increasing the metro region’s access to global markets.
Finally, who built and continues to fund the university system lauded by Pennington as another of the pillars of the Georgia economy? Again, it has been taxpayers.
Without those investments, many of them by prior generations of Georgians, where would this state be today? And without additional investments in the future, where will we be tomorrow?
It’s telling that in his State of the State address last week, Deal proposed to address serious traffic congestion on Ga. 400 by converting existing emergency lanes to travel lanes. It probably won’t help a lot — it may even make congestion much worse at times, by making it difficult if not impossible for emergency responders to clear away accidents. But unless we take action, such jury-rigged, small-time fixes are all we have available to us.
– Jay Bookman