Can T-SPLOST supporters overcome infighting, unrealistic expectations?

If you think the transportation sales tax is a good idea, you can’t be happy about this report in the AJC today:

On Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed presented 20 transportation projects and city council members balked, claiming the list does not address key issues for the city and they had no input.

Creating more friction, Reed was expected to whittle the 20 projects, which would cost an estimated $6.9 billion obtained from 2012 referendum tax money set aside for transportation needs, to a workable number himself by Wednesday to submit to the state.

“Whoever had the bright idea to circumvent the council may have doomed the council’s support for this; it is just a matter of good form that you would want to have the buy-in of the council,” council president Ceasar C. Mitchell said. “The political risk here is members of the council being more aloof on this project. There has to be a strong push to get people to vote on this. This doesn’t help me in wanting to support this.”

I don’t know whose fault this is — later in the story, Reed suggests he just saw the list himself Friday, and raising the matter three days before Reed has to turn it in to the state seems like some real procrastination on the Council’s part. Whoever is to blame, it does not bode well for the regional roundtable’s chances of agreeing on a project list that there is infighting in the region’s largest city.

By the way, for those keeping score at home: The proposed projects in today’s news alone  — Reed’s $6.9 billion list and MARTA’s separate $4 billion-plus list — exceed by more than one-third the expected proceeds of the sales tax over the entire, 10-county metro Atlanta region. Wish lists from Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and other counties will add billions and billions more in projects that can’t be funded.

Some voters may look at these long and expensive lists, compare them to the much shorter region-wide list that eventually emerges, and decide to vote for the tax because of the sheer number of projects out there. On the other hand, I wonder how many will make that comparison and be disappointed at how many projects there are that they would like to see in their area but that don’t make the cut — as so many projects inevitably will.

I still think the fight is well uphill for the sales tax’s supporters.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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25 comments Add your comment

WillieRae

March 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

Atlanta has been looking for a way to submarine the transit tax becasuse a lot of that money is going to be spent outside the city. Maybe they found what they were looking for.

1961_Boomer

March 29th, 2011
12:20 pm

Geez… what a circus. The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates the tax would generate $7 billion to $8 billion over 10 years. The city of Atlanta and MARTA thinks that they are going to get it all? Really?

You know, if these guys had come out with a combined $2billion request, they *might* have received it. This is a case where “shooting for the stars” doesn’t work. It makes you look like narcissistic pig. If they started with something realistic, they might be taken seriously and this thing would have a chance of passing. They are betting that the surrounding counties will vote for it, anyway, out of fear of having to pay higher rates for to the state DOT for work done in their counties. That gambit is not going to work.

Mayor Reed is right about one thing: consultation with the Atlanta city council is a useless and fruitless venture. There is NO chance that the city council can agree on a plan even if given a year to do so. He needs to stay the course and cut his request to $1 billion in projects. MARTA needs to cut their request to $1billion. Then… and only then… does the TSPLOST have a chance of success.

Intown

March 29th, 2011
12:46 pm

Atlanta has two personalities. One focused on the good for the entire metropolitan area and sometimes the entire state. The other focused on local interests only. Atlanta is often taken advantage of by neighboring jurisdictions as a result. Within the city, there is understandable tension between the two. Most other cities in Georgia do not have this problem. They have the luxury of only focus on themselves.

Port O'John

March 29th, 2011
1:49 pm

The process is for the local jurisdictions to submit wish lists and for the state DOT to winnow down the list for the entire region do vote on at one time. So Boomer, unless you want to just criticize MARTA, the Mayor and the City Council because its fun and they deserve it, go ahead, but I think its a little too early to say the process is broken just yet (give it a month or two, then we can declare it DOA). I know the AJC will report that Atlanta and MARTA are hogging all the proposed tax revenues to whip up the Atlanta vrs Suburbs, but they have to sell papers and attacking Atlanta is the way to accomplish that.

As for not briefing the City Council, although probably a political mistake, I’m not sure what that would have given Kasim except more trouble. These are the clowns that gave us the ParkAtlanta privatized parking enforcement. Maybe there is a way to privatize parking enforcement in a reasoned and intelligent way, but the way the Atlana City Council handled it was just inept, ham-handed and short-sighted on many, many levels. Just wait until you get a parking ticket on a street with no parking meters or parking restriction signs whatsoever. You have two options, pay $35 or spend a day in Atlanta traffic court fighting the ticket. You choose. Great revenue enhancement device for the ParkAtlanta folks.

Finally, it never ceases to amaze me that when talking about Regional Transit, local elected officials keep moaning about how there is no entity with the authority to operate a regional transit system. Even the state keeps fumbling this issue. I know we are supposed to despise him now, but when Roy Barnes created GRTA the legislation specifically authorized GRTA to operate a regional transit system in metro Atlanta what was in the ozone nonattainment area. In fact, GRTA does operate a regional bus system already in metro Atlanta.*

*of course, GRTA buses actually compete for routes and riders with MARTA, Gwinnett and Cobb county transit systems which means we have publicly-funded transit agencies competing with each other, but hey, this is Georgia and we are doing the best we can with the limited, myopic, political leadership God gave us. We couldn’t have voted these clowns into office, could we?

N

March 29th, 2011
1:51 pm

Every county/City is going to have a longer initial list then money would allow, that is part of the process.

poison pen

March 29th, 2011
1:51 pm

Kyle, he will know what’s in it after it passes.

Road Scholar

March 29th, 2011
1:52 pm

The COA finally prepared their FIRST comprehensive transportation plan 2 years ago….but didn’t fund it! Council is complaining they didn’t have input on Reed’s list? They had a “roadmap” to transportation projects that had been defined by modeling, public involvement, and estimated cost. But they didn’t have the time to review the list? They knew the legislation had passed both houses and that the governor signed it! Besides slapping them in the face, what other “notification” do they need?

Kyle , the question is which projects get selected for the TSPLOST. There is already a priority list for projects statewide and in each congressional district contained in the GDOT 5 year plan and its long term plan. How do we ensure Atlanta gets the right projcts fom GDOT (Gas tax financed) and those for TSPLOST? Do we raise the priority on exiting projects already defined in the ARC Regional Transportation Plan (long term plan) or do we define more “pie in the sky” projects? If TSPLOST is passed , how do we know that GDOT will spend the gas tax here in proportion to the taxes collected here?

Sales Taxes are Regressive

March 29th, 2011
2:00 pm

If Georgians would stop electing representatives who are determined cut taxes for corporations and to cut taxes on unearned income like inheritances and such, then the state have enough revenue to maintain and expand our infrastructure without having to resort to raising taxes on the poor.

BW

March 29th, 2011
2:05 pm

It would be good if all the entities actually cobbled together a dream wish so that there could be regional planning over the next 50 years. Atlanta and Marta know that they won’t get everything they request but if it is unspoken then it will never become a reality. Rail transit must be a part of any comprehensive transportation solution in the region….to continue to deny that is burying one’s head in the sand. Forget about high speed rail for the moment and focus on inter-city commuter rail. Forget bus rapid transit and plan for light or commuter rail on the major arteries. Seize Marta and rename it something else if it puts your mind at ease but build on what’s there with the understanding that the system was set up to fail in the first place. I sincerely hope that this region can get its act together….I’m at the point where I am able to start a family and this will be one of the factors that determine the long-term viability of putting down roots in my birthplace.

Mike

March 29th, 2011
2:11 pm

Kyle and to others complaining – MARTA and the city of Atlanta are well aware that all of these projects will not be funded. All they are doing is submitting a list which will then be narrowed down further. Why is that so difficult to understand? Or do you just like to stir things up and spread false info to push your anti-everything agenda?

If this tax fails and nothing is done, in the next few years we are going to see more and more companies choose places like Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Dallas, and Houston (you know, metro areas that are willing to INVEST in their infrastructure and economic prosperity) and bypass Atlanta. But hey, as your property values decline and people move away, all of you cheap-o’s will be smiling and oblivious to it because you won’t have to pay a one cent sales tax that you’ll barely notice anyways.

jconservative

March 29th, 2011
2:13 pm

Why doesn’t Atlanta do the transportation problems like they did the sewage problem. just let it sit another 60 years and then do something?

ragnar danneskjold

March 29th, 2011
2:19 pm

Good afternoon all, our overlords here provide a good example of government-think – let’s raise a big pool of money and then figure out how to spend it.

I can already see that I will vote “no.”

Sales Taxes are Regressive

March 29th, 2011
2:29 pm

Mike, if you know, specifically how does Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Dallas, and Houston (metro areas that are willing to INVEST in their infrastructure and economic prosperity) get the funds for such investments? Via a dedicated sales tax or from the general fund?

Mike

March 29th, 2011
2:56 pm

I know that Dallas, Houston, and Charlotte have a dedicated sales tax that voters approved. Raleigh and Nashville do not, however Raleigh/state of NC are building toll roads. Nashville just gets money from the general fund as of right now, but all of these cities are our competition. Although Raleigh and Nashville don’t have a dedicated sales tax for transportation improvements, they have very low traffic issues and we have to compete with them. How can we keep our area competitive if we do nothing?

Kyle Wingfield

March 29th, 2011
3:36 pm

Fwiw, after I posted this today, I was talking with someone who may be involved with promoting the transportation sales tax in a PR campaign. And his reaction to all these lists was the same as mine: that you very seriously risk building public expectations unreasonably high.

So, while I understand the process is to submit a list of projects to be narrowed down, what I’m questioning is the strategy of making that list so long and expensive. And it’s not because I’m “anti-everything.”

Sales Taxes are Regressive

March 29th, 2011
3:37 pm

Thanks Mike. I agree that we need to make these investments to remain competitive. My problem with this proposal is how it pays for them.

I wish more could see that the Party of tax cuts is really the Party of tax cuts for the rich and the Party of tax hikes for the poor and middle class. Republican leaders put scare quotes around the word “investment” and call it spending when such investments are paid for with a graduated income tax (look at the criticism of President Obama’s infrastructure spending proposals). On the other hand, these same Republican leaders never met a sales tax hike they didn’t love.

This not-so-gradual shift that we’re experiencing from taxes on unearned income (inheritances, capital gains, and dividends) to taxes on earned income and from progressive taxes to regressive taxes are counter-productive, bad for the economy, and most importantly, immoral and mean.

Mike

March 29th, 2011
4:00 pm

Well I’m glad you agree something needs to be done for Atlanta metro to continue to prosper, however every city/metro in the country uses a sales tax (that is voter approved) for transportation/infrastructure improvements. It’s not uncommon at all.

Mike

March 29th, 2011
4:01 pm

Also, I’d like to add that with a sales tax, people visiting the area that buy stuff also pay for it… and Atlanta has a lot of conventions which bring a lot of people to the area who buy things.

carlosgvv

March 29th, 2011
4:09 pm

Sales Taxes are Regressive

But…but…but…these elected officials say they have only our best interests at heart. If we can’t trust our good honest politicians, who can we trust?

amazed

March 29th, 2011
4:10 pm

@RoadScholar
You have pointed out the problem with this process. Rather than having a comprehensive plan like the ARC and selecting projects from that list, everyone is coming up with a pie in the sky wish list. MARTA has already rejected one of the projects on their list and is really only in advance stages on the Holmes-MLK extension.

Houston adopted a 1 cent sales tax around 1980 with a plan. They bought the private bus system and came up with a 25 year plan of road, highway and transit improvements. 1/4 of the 1 cent tax was for roads in order to give the suburban areas a reason to support the tax. Now the priority list changed over 25 years, but other than heavy rail getting rejected, it did not change significantly. Most of those items were built, with a combination of the sales tax, general funds and state highway funds. And Houston went from being known as pothole city USA with a disjointed road system to having one of the best arterial systems in the country.

Here we seem to have a list of unjustified projects in order to grab the new source of money.

The 1st items on the list should be the unglamorous ones, ones referred to as Transportation Systems Management: Towing projects to clear freeways (most freeway delays are due to accidents), light synchonization, fixing broken lights which plague Atlanta, left turn lanes and limitation of left turns. 2nd should be improving the Atlanta area’s notoriously bad arterial road system. One expert said it was the 2nd worst of the 20 top metro areas. My guess it that it is a whole lot worse than #3 to #20.

Another Cynic

March 29th, 2011
4:50 pm

@BW
If you’re a true native I would expect you to have a Plan B given the historical lack of “leadership” and cooperation within this area and state (Olympics excluded…$$$$). This region is too fragmented…different interests, goals, expectations and just might become even more so if Milton County becomes a reality. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see true leadership and cooperation in this region until something “catastrophic” occurs… i.e. a major corporation deciding to pull out of town. Of course… any action at that point would probably be too late…. the damage would have already been done.

The writing is on the wall… and I’ve decided that this region will no longer be apart of my family’s future. Let’s hope i’m completely wrong.

insider

March 29th, 2011
5:48 pm

Mayor Reed does not have to get the approval from the Council. After he was added to the Committee in the secret backroom arm twisting deal at the Gold Dome, it was obvious that the Mayor is supposed to be in charge of the list of projects.

Without Atlanta, the referendum won’t pass ITP. With MARTA projects on the list, the referendum won’t pass OTP.

Just a typical Legislative mess. Nothing to see here folks, just move along.

amazed

March 29th, 2011
8:36 pm

@cynic
Someone else who had lived here about 5 years pointed out to me how there is very little sense of being part of “Atlanta.” Its Marrieta, Roswell, Dunwoody…

The political structure is ridiculous. Urban areas being unicorporated (most of Dekalb-Vinings, much of Gwinnet). Cities and Counties suing each other over services. There are way too many counties. Kentucky is 3rd after Georgia with 120. They did theirs so people could walk to the county seat in one day. And so we have an 1860s political structure here which doesn’t serve metro areas well.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

March 30th, 2011
3:12 pm

It’s time we have some cohesivness in the ATL area. We need money for transit as well as roads. We need to focus on the most heavily traveled routes in the area and go from there, as far as roads. Roads like Ga 316 and Tara Blvd should be a top priority. Extending MARTA rail should be a top priority and combining the services into one. It makes no sense to have 4 or 5 transit agencies battling for money for separate rail and bus projects. Commuter rail should also be a high priority.

DagnyT

March 31st, 2011
1:48 pm

“that you very seriously risk building public expectations unreasonably high.”

My public expectation was that the toll would be ending on Georgia 400, as we were promised. Now it’s not. And you expect me to believe anything these fools put in front of me. I will be voting No. If you want my vote, keep your promise and removed the toll. Otherwise, could we fund these projects with a few less “Halls of Fame”, fish ponds, and vast tracts of oaky woods in middle Georgia?