You know you’re facing an uphill electoral battle when your best campaign slogan amounts to: Give us your vote now, or we’ll just come back later to ask you again.
That’s where supporters of a metro Atlanta T-SPLOST find themselves. With eight months to go, there’s not much optimism about the referendum to raise $6.1 billion for regional transportation projects via a 1 percent sales tax.
Two months ago, an opinion poll commissioned by the AJC found just 51 percent of voters in the 10-county region support the tax. Subsequent polling by supporters of the tax, I’m told, confirmed its chances of passing are precarious.
The “yes” campaign appears to be keeping its powder dry until the July 31 vote draws nearer. The experience of plebiscites elsewhere in the country, however, suggests that successful measures begin with higher support, shed voters in the face of “no” campaigns, and hang on to win.
Business leaders at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber stressed the lack of a “plan B” for transportation improvements. Without necessarily endorsing the tax, House Speaker David Ralston told them, “I’m afraid that if we’re not successful next year that we’re going to have an even longer and more arduous process to get back to this point again.”
Actually, there is a plan B, or maybe it’s A-1: Delay the vote.
Tax supporters proposed a delay this summer, but they weren’t thinking far enough into the future. I’m not talking about a delay until November, in hopes that Democrats turning out to re-elect President Barack Obama will pass the Republicans’ mass-transit tax while they’re at it.
I mean a delay of a year or more. It’s a good idea, whether you support or oppose the tax.
Also last week, University of Georgia economists forecast sluggish growth in 2012, as the state continues to rebound from a series of burst bubbles. They expect metro Atlanta to fare worse than Georgia’s average, with only the ninth-best employment growth rate among Georgia’s metro areas.
Trying to persuade voters to tax themselves even more, in that environment, is a suicide mission. Businesses poised to move to, or expand within, metro Atlanta may fret about traffic congestion, but I doubt they’re pinning hopes on an altered version of the Beltline.
(To those who say the transportation projects themselves would be an economic boost: Not for a few years, given that much of the money is devoted to transit projects that are far from “shovel ready.” And not if the tax fails in the first place.)
But what about tax opponents? Why go for a delay when the referendum is likely to fail?
If you oppose the tax, period, you probably shouldn’t go for a delay.
If, however, your qualms with the tax concern the project list, you might consider it. Because there’s still a chance the tax, with this project list, will pass. And if it were up to me, the law wouldn’t be amended merely to allow a vote after 2012. It would also allow for — perhaps even require — a revised project list.
I might also insert a mandate to prioritize the potential projects based on cost-benefit analyses. I’d certainly use the extra time to settle on exactly what mode of transit was to be used in, say, Cobb’s U.S. 41 corridor.
It you support the tax, you want it to pass. Even if you don’t, you surely want to ensure the money is well-spent. Either way, if the vote is eight months from now, you stand to be disappointed.
– By Kyle Wingfield