So is there a Plan B should metro Atlanta reject the one-penny sales tax for transportation?
Theoretically, sure there is. State law says regional leaders can propose another list of projects to voters in two years, when many who oppose the current list argue that a “better” list would be more likely to win voter approval.
That’s wishful thinking. The same political forces that produced a list that is too heavy on transit to some, and too light on transit to others, will still be in play come 2014, and at best will produce a list much like this one.
Besides, let’s be honest: Most who oppose this T-SPLOST would also oppose any future tax increase for transportation. Their opposition is based not on these specific projects but on the idea of a transportation tax increase, period. That will not change.
And frankly, I doubt that two years from now, public officials would be able to agree on any list at all. As highly politicized and contentious as this process has become, elected local officials will be much less willing to engage again in the give-and-take that was necessary to produce the current list, and much more likely to grandstand in defense of their own small corner of the region.
For example, even if Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee survives his current primary challenge, I doubt he’ll be willing to stick his neck out once again on behalf of regional projects. If Lee does not survive, his fate will become an object lesson for other local officials. The spirit of cooperation that allowed regional leaders to support the current list unanimously will never be recaptured should voters reject this plan.
And of course, if the measure does fail, it won’t be hard to find people to blame. Near the top of the list will be former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who year after year told Georgia to Go Fish rather than focus on transportation, and who in the end left us this convoluted funding mechanism as his legacy.
In his last days in office, Perdue also broke the state’s longstanding pledge not to extend tolls on Georgia 400, shattering what was left of public faith that political leaders will keep their word on such issues. And while Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement this week that he would end the extended tolls at the end of 2013 explicitly acknowledges the damage done by Perdue’s move, it may have come too late.
Fingers will also be pointed at state legislative leaders, who shucked off responsibility for making tough decisions onto local leaders, then sat back and in some cases took potshots at what those local elected leaders decided.
In the end, though, the failure will be our own. This will be the first time in the history of the Atlanta region that it has the chance to actually debate, vote and act as a region. Defeat would mean that we failed that test. It would mean that voters inside the perimeter became too concerned that voters outside the perimeter might be getting a better deal, and vice versa, and that voters in general lacked faith in their public institutions to perform what is really a very basic function of government.
And if we prove to have no faith in our leaders or institutions, why should outsiders looking to invest time, energy and money have that faith either?
– Jay Bookman