The truth about how long T-SPLOST will tax us

The T-SPLOST faces a challenging road to passage as it is. Imagine if supporters had to drum up votes for it either without the two segments of the Beltline; or without a bus/light rail line into Cobb County; or without any of the interchange improvements at I-285 and Ga. 400, I-285 and I-20 west, and I-285 and I-85 north. All while no other projects were added to the list.

Or, instead, imagine if they were asking voters to approve the same project list, with the same 1 percent sales tax for the same 10 years — while, at the same time, they were asking for another tax increase of $600 million to $850 million during the same decade.

Say hello to the T-SPLOST renewal campaign, circa 2022.

One of the hottest — and most disingenuous — aspects of the T-SPLOST debate has been the back and forth about whether the tax being put to a regional referendum in July would last only 10 years.

On the anti-tax side, some people suggest politicians will double-cross the voters and keep the tax past its promised end date, a la the extension of the toll on Ga. 400. They’re wrong. The promise to end the 400 toll once the bonds were paid off was just that: a promise by politicians, the kind of pledge that is — or should be assumed to be — made to be broken. The expiration of the T-SPLOST, on the other hand, is written into the law.

The pro-tax side assures us that voters will have the chance to reject any extension of the tax. And, as I’ve just described, they technically are correct.

But this assurance isn’t worth much when we consider the implications of passing the T-SPLOST for the first 10 years. Pass the tax in July, and we will be paying it, or another tax, for decades.

That much is clear from new, rough estimates about how much of the $6.14 billion project list would go for preliminary work, how much for construction, and how much for operation and maintenance of new transit.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has been compiling these estimates during the past few months. (Amazingly, local elected officials didn’t go into this kind of detail when approving the list of projects and their price tags.)

About a quarter of the $3.2 billion allocated to transit, $767.9 million, is estimated for these projects’ operations and maintenance for 10 years, as required by law. Because the projects would be built in timeframes that vary, they do not cover the same 10 years. But, at some point, the O&M funding would run out.

Some of the $767.9 million is for bus services that come with minimal new construction. Depending on whether all those services were renewed, and applying a modest inflation rate, we’re talking about second-decade costs of $600 million to $850 million just to keep these new projects running.

It’s extremely unlikely that we would spend $2.4 billion on new infrastructure and then shut it down after 10 years. In that respect, the T-SPLOST is very different from a special sales tax for education, after which voters could decide they’ve built enough new schools.

So we are probably left with the two unpalatable options I described at the beginning of this column: getting fewer projects with a renewed T-SPLOST, or raising other taxes to fill the gap.

The latter option is far-fetched. We’ve never raised other taxes to cover what’s become a perennial budget shortfall at MARTA. And how would the burden for projects built regionally be allocated, if not on a regional basis? (That question is another reason it would have been good to have a new regional model for transit governance before voting on the T-SPLOST.)

That leaves us with having less money from a renewed T-SPLOST to spend on new construction.

What would $600 million to $850 million buy? On this project list, we’re talking about some of the headliners:

  • two segments of the Beltline (total cost: $601.9 million);
  • bus or light rail into Cobb ($689 million);
  • improvements at I-285 and Ga. 400 ($450 million), I-285 and I-85 north ($53 million), and I-285 and I-20 west ($149 million).

Each of those possibilities is closer to $600 million than to $850 million. And, obviously, we would be talking about forgoing different projects, such as expanding transit up I-85 north or across the top end of I-285, or building the super-arterial roads needed to pull traffic away from the interstates.

It may be that this is a choice voters in metro Atlanta are willing to make. But, so far, it’s not how the choice has been framed.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

228 comments Add your comment

Road Scholar

May 31st, 2012
5:54 am

Finally someone may stop the whining about the Tsplost being like the SR400 tolls!. Kyle, when will you do a story about what the toll money will be used for? In addition to the Tsplost ending in 10 years, if approved, and the “loss” of future money if not renewed, isn’t that the same with the toll monies?

We have a funding deficit to cover our desired and needed transportation improvements here in the Metro region. Just what is your solution to fund these needs? Sell cookies? Wash cars?

We need billions to address not only today’s needs but what the future will bring us. If the powers behind implementing this tax do not complete projects on time, and on budget, voters will not approve an extension. If they do, another 10 years WILL BE VOTED ON and approved as they have done in Denver and other cities in need of transportation…INCLUDING TRANSIT.

Yes we are investing in planning and design of projects that may not be implemented in the initial 10 year period, but, if they are worth something, regular gas tax revenue or an extended Tsplost revenue may be used to implement them. Each year projects are conceptualized on paper to determine whether they are worth the time, effort, and scarce transportation funds. Why is it different with Tsplost? It isn’t.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Unexpectedly Revised Downward--Again)

May 31st, 2012
6:09 am

About a quarter of the $3.2 billion allocated to transit, $767.9 million, is estimated for these projects’ operations and maintenance for 10 years
———————–

T-SPLOST is worse than I thought. We’re PLANNING to fail? I.e., to build transit that doesn’t pay for itself through fares?

T-SPLOST: A definite “NO” vote.

@@

May 31st, 2012
6:23 am

Each of those possibilities is closer to $600 million than to $850 million. And, obviously, we would be talking about forgoing different projects, such as expanding transit up I-85 north or across the top end of I-285, or building the super-arterial roads needed to pull traffic away from the interstates.

Are the politicians in the surrounding counties aware of this forgoing?

Puts me in mind of a project down my way. One of our politicians has made his bones on providing rec centers (FOR YOUTH). There’s a rec center going up for seniors (we already have three) provided by previous administrations. There’s no funds set aside to staff OR furnish the new center.

GREAT! We’re the recipients of an empty shell…

game.

jconservative

May 31st, 2012
6:25 am

BlahBlahBlah

May 31st, 2012
7:29 am

Poorly conceived. Poorly planned. Poorly funded. NO is the way to go. People adapt. Cities adapt. We can live without T-SPLOST.

Buzz G

May 31st, 2012
7:38 am

More tax, more tax, more tax, it is never enough. We are taxed at the Federal level, at the State level, at the county level, at the city level. We have payroll taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, and who knows what other taxes. Now they want to add taxes at a “regional” level and add a T-SPLOST tax. If they need to find money to build some new stuff, they can start out by cutting out the waste and abuse at the State level. And then here in Gwinnett they can cut out the huge bureaucracy at the county level. As far as a new tax goes, “Just say NO to T-SPLOST.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
7:41 am

The Beltline. What a silly idea and colossal waste of money.

JohnnyReb

May 31st, 2012
7:41 am

“…it would have been good to have a new regional model for transit governance before voting on the T-SPLOST.”

Bingo!

Plus, someone please tell me how the Beltline is a transit project?

laurie

May 31st, 2012
7:42 am

Stll voting NO.

Chris

May 31st, 2012
7:48 am

Road developers, engineering firms and asphalt salesmen who just happen to have the gutless politicians who passed this monstrosity on speed dial are spending millions to try and pass this thing.

They’re getting ready to have a big party with your tax dollars. I call it “grift-a-palooza”. Vote NO.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 31st, 2012
7:52 am

The way people and businesses are leaving Atlanta, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Well, I guess they do need a road to get out on.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Unexpectedly Revised Downward--Again)

May 31st, 2012
7:56 am

Don’t Democrats run Atlanta? Why don’t they already have all the transit they need? I’m shocked that they haven’t been able to get that done. Why don’t they just raise taxes (their own, I mean)?

mottlicher

May 31st, 2012
8:04 am

The amount of tax money collected by the gas tax for transportation has been slowly but surely getting smaller. The amount of people using the transportation infrastructure in this region has been growing. At this rate we are barely covering maintenance of the existing infrastructure.

We see complaints about tolls, Tsplost, no new taxes. If we are talking about new entitlement programs from DC, sure I am there with you. But we are not, we are talking about the roads, bridges, and rail that we use everyday around here. One way or another we will have to find a way to pay for both improvements and O&M of our infrastructure. This is not a perfectly designed program, but its the best shot we have had to move in the right direction in decades.

The politicians will not get back together to work on anything this size again. It will be a fight over dwindling dollars to get a few pet projects for those with the most power in the General Assembly.

Rafe Hollister- trying to save the Choom Gang

May 31st, 2012
8:21 am

More lies and deceit from government. Surprised? Vote No!

JDW

May 31st, 2012
8:23 am

@Kyle…why don’t you just buy a horse and buggy so you don’t need roads. Thats pretty much where your approach is headed.

“But, at some point, the O&M funding would run out.”

Really? Surely you jest. You mean we have to actually pay to keep operations going. Quick quiz…name one, just one, project or service that requires ongoing operations and yet needs no funding. Why on earth would this be surprise?

Kyle, the kind of thinking that went into this piece is the kind that has been in force over the last 10 years and is the reason the quality of our infrastructure and transportation systems have erroded over that time. You got a better idea lets hear it…whining that you might have to consider funding options in 2022 is a waste of time.

Ken

May 31st, 2012
8:23 am

You have to ask yourself 3 questions to vote for this tax- 1) do you trust the politicians? 2) do you trust DOT? and 3) do you trust the developers to stay within budget? Lastly, remember if you vote yes, you are telling the politicians you don’t feel you are being taxed enough and you believe they have been good stewards of your current tax money. Mass transit in Metro Atlanta is a joke- too widespread of a geographic area, unless you are talking about the few ITP residers, who will certainly vote for this bill…oh yeah, one last question- do you feel safe riding MARTA?

JohnnyReb

May 31st, 2012
8:27 am

“One way or another we will have to find a way to pay for both improvements and O&M of our infrastructure.”

Good point. How about public works? Every man and woman drawing any kind of entitlement check from the government (handicapped and elderly excluded) have to show up everyday for public work or they don’t get the check.

I predict in less than 6 months there would be enough entitlement money surplus to fund the transporation and infrastructure woes.

sirwinston

May 31st, 2012
8:27 am

We are the lowest thing on anyone list; whenever they start losing money, it is raising taxes for this, that, or for whatever. I never hear anything about them cutting those big “six-figures salaries” to save on their money issues. With all of the continuing about T-SPLOST, continuing to raise taxes for all of these projects that is on the books for starting, running and completing them; there has been nothing done that is solving traffic or highways problems here, at all! Reading a lot about the situation, what they have not told the public and what are they during that we are not aware of. Its been some behind the door working on things that has the project losing great deal of money. Is it profits that they want to make to keep the tax paying people locked into for years to come? To be honest, we have all of these major highways that are being refaced, redone, widing etc., but never take’s the traveling public nowhere, except right back into “back up” traffic over and over again. Would you all say that we have not moved forth in the last 5 years; “Grady Curve”, constantly a major tie-up; in fact, it has been a nightmare trying to move from point a to b with so much money being invested; you would think all of these major highways would be sent someplace else instead of being projected right back into one and other making getting to where a grave problem. We must stop the continuation of making tax payers pay for things that we are not getting. We must called upon those who can see right through all of the continuation of on mess over and over again and get things where they need to be. Mass-Transportation has not hit this state because they don’t know how to do it. Everything that is done, it is geard toward all of Atlanta major attractions and we all know what those are! It is a complete mess……..and that is why people do not want to leave their cars behind because good transportation Atlanta just don’t have!

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
8:44 am

A no vote is a vote to do nothing for another 40 years since the MARTA bill. This is the first time in decades this area worked as a REGION and came up with a way to fund projects for the entire region. Just because a project doesn’t go from Cobb to Fulton then to Clayton doesn’t make it non regional. They all are regional because we are working as ONE REGION to take care of problem areas within this ONE REGION!

The High Evolutionary

May 31st, 2012
8:51 am

If you have ever voted for a tax or sales-tax increase, you should commit suicide immediately.

Yes, that includes YOU, too.

The High Evolutionary

May 31st, 2012
8:51 am

PLEASE NOTE: You should also remove yourself from the gene pool with all due expedience if you ever use a smart phone or cell phone while behind the wheel of a moving motor vehicle.

Yes, that also includes YOU, too.

ragnar danneskjold

May 31st, 2012
9:04 am

Fortunately the government of Georgia can be trusted to remove taxes as agreed, as they did with the toll booths on 400. Oops, bad example.

Bob Loblaw

May 31st, 2012
9:04 am

Kyle, it seems like you are scared for Atlanta to grow. Fretting about what will happen ten years from now with all those buses to fill up? Atlanta will be a better place with increased productivity and, what do you know, a higher tax base if we improve the way we move around. Why be scared of how we’re going to run a train in ten years? It took three years to get a transportation Act through the General Assembly. I figure they can figure out how to fill the bus up in ten years.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
9:07 am

This is all nice and fine, however, Atlantas best days are behind it. The Detroit of the South, the cesspool that is Atlanta is in decline and thats ok by me.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
9:18 am

@ iggy

Do you live in the Atlanta metro area? Heck, do you even live in the state of Georgia? Don’t you know without Atlanta’s success the rest of this state is just backwoods and small unproductive towns. With the exception of Savannah, and the port is the only thing they have — and that’s to ship good to the Atlanta region!

iggy

May 31st, 2012
9:26 am

Stop the govt waste and their will be no need for TSplost. Govt waste is the problem, not lack of funds.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
9:27 am

It’s time we take care of our region. The Atlanta metro area is our home. Would you just let your actual home go down and decay? Would you want your neighbor to do that. We someone doesn’t invest in their home it brings the whole neighborhood down. Not investing in the entire Atlanta region will do the same for the region. If you have too many bad looking homes in an area would you move yourself or family to that neighborhood. The same for the Atlanta region; do you think major companies and high paying jobs are going to want to move here if we don’t invest? When a neighborhood goes down then it turns into a slum and doesn’t come back to life until others reinvest in the area. Same for ATL. Jobs will leave and the quality of life goes down. Then Atlanta is going to have to reinvest anyway to bring itself back. No investment in our transportation structure means no investment in jobs and economic growth. No investment in your neighborhood. No investment in the future of our youth. In the end you aren’t investing in yourself. There are two things you are going to do in life: pay taxes and die. Get over the whole “we have to pay another tax” thing because if our previous generations didn’t invest in Atlanta, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Atlanta would be like the rest of Georgia, which is nothing.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
9:32 am

NO to TSplost.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
9:32 am

Government waste? In a conservative run state that’s what some say. These conservatives complain about no new taxes but keep voting the same people in (which is theirselves) that keep wasting the money and appointing there “friends” to these higher positions that don’t know what they are doing. Too funny.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
9:35 am

Govt waste? Look to APS, DCSS, Fulton, Clayton, food stamps, welfare, City of Atl etc.

Cutty

May 31st, 2012
9:37 am

Everyone on the right enjoys talking about the perennial shortfalls of MARTA. This morning when I got to the train station, there were just as many cars w tags from Douglas, Cobb, and Carroll as there were Fulton. Imagine if these counties also had to pay the penny sales tax to help fund MARTA, instead if Fulton and Dekalb bearing the load. You ‘conservatives’ like to rail against freeloaders taking from the government. In this case, you are the freeloaders and proud of it. Go figure.

Kyle Wingfield

May 31st, 2012
9:40 am

JDW: Of course there would be ongoing O&M costs. But don’t you think we ought to know how much those costs will be? And don’t you think we should have a plan for how to pay for them? And don’t you think it’s better to talk about that plan before the vote than after?

And don’t you come on here pretty much every single day and accuse George W. Bush of having failed to do that?

Don Abernethy

May 31st, 2012
9:41 am

NOSPLOST AND NOBAMA.

BlahBlahBlah

May 31st, 2012
9:42 am

If you’re going to raise taxes to pay for roads, raise gas taxes in Georgia. That way all the snowbirds that stop to fill their tanks are helping to pay for the roads they’re using. All the truckers passing through are helping to pay for the roads they’re using.

If you want more money for MARTA, give a plan to expand it that actually makes sense and FORCE outlying counties (Cobb, Gwinnett, I’m looking at you) to allow MARTA. Then, once there is a sensible plan to expand it, think about how to raiset the money to fund it. Washington DC’s Metro is great because it actually starts and finishes in logical locations that make it easy for folks in the burbs to use it. MARTA should head NE to Mall of GA, NW to Barrett Pkwy (at least), out east so folks in the 78/278/I-20 area can use it.

Kyle Wingfield

May 31st, 2012
9:44 am

Bob Loblaw: I’m not “scared” of that, or anything else. But don’t you think we ought to know how we’re going to pay for something before we build it? Don’t you think we ought to have an honest — and informed — conversation about what we’re committing ourselves to do, if we pass this?

I don’t think that conversation necessarily leads one to vote “no.” As I wrote in the column, it may well be that voters are OK with all this. But aren’t you even the teensiest bit concerned that we are only now getting these estimates — the figures have only recently been compiled, and I’m not aware of anyone having reported them before I did — when the referendum is just two months away?

md

May 31st, 2012
9:44 am

A 10 year tax is a 10 year job security bill for those doing the work……and it will take at least 10 years to get any of it done. I drive US 1 in middle Ga quite often……it is truly amazing how slow a project can go when there is 1 guy working every day. They can work on the same stretch of hwy for months…..doing the same work over and over.

Good luck with it…….

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
9:49 am

No to the T-SPLOST but don’t have an alternative, other than do nothing and keep the area in a downward spiral. YES TO THE T-SPLOST! I would even pay 2 cent to support MARTA for an efficient transit system since our conservative Gold Domers aren’t going to pay.

Here’s the alternative to the T-SPLOST. Pay the extra cent tax for MARTA. A full one sent for capital projects and one for O&M. Get MARTA beefed back up to over 150 routes and more trains and higher frequencies on both. Expand rail in south Dekalb and other areas within Fulton and Dekalb. Build our own Beltline for better intown rail transit. Let the ‘burbers who want to sit in traffic do that. Charge them for parking at MARTA’s park and ride lots while Fulton and Dekalb park for free. Stop letting their burb buses tear up downtown and midtown streets and highways. If they want to connect, which they obviously do, let them ride to the end commuter stations. Do away with the Breeze card; NO FREE TRANSFERS!

Let the burbs enjoy their long commutes to their jobs and lost time with there family and friends, while we focus on maintaining jobs, creating a great transit system, and quality of life. I’m also for tolls on all highways coming into the Perimeter. Yeah we would have to pay too leaving out but all the money will be used to maintain the highways while we’ll get federal money for transit because we are also supporting it locally.

md

May 31st, 2012
9:52 am

“Don’t you know without Atlanta’s success the rest of this state is just backwoods and small unproductive towns”

A wee bit full of yourself aren’t you……………….

md

May 31st, 2012
9:55 am

“I would even pay 2 cent to support MARTA for an efficient transit system since our conservative Gold Domers aren’t going to pay. ”

How about upping the fares for those actually using it to make it self-sufficient vs always asking for others to supplement it…………..

sheepdawg

May 31st, 2012
9:56 am

no to tsplost, keep our President in november 2012, get rid of dirty deal and his cronies in november 2014

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
9:56 am

@ iggy May 31st, 2012 9:35 am

Wow so educating and protecting our children is a waste? For all those who lost their jobs food stamps and welfare to help them maintain is a waist? The city of Atlanta is a waist? The same city that generates most of the tax money for the entire state?

@ Cutty May 31st, 2012 9:37 am

So so true!

iggy

May 31st, 2012
10:11 am

“Protecting our children” Spoken like a true liberal. You forgot “It takes a village”.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

May 31st, 2012
10:19 am

Sorry I am and it does. I grew up poor and understand the hard work it takes to make it out. I sure wouldn’t have made it out with just the help of my mother, who also worked very hard. It took my teacher, my family, my friends, programs that were publicly funded, like after school tutoring and park basketball leagues. Sorry if I wasn’t spoon fed everything I worked for, like most (not all) conservatives.

But not to take it there because this is about the T-SPLOST and transportation. Let’s stay on topic iggy. Well I guess you can’t when all you can say is “NO T-SPLOST” and “no taxes” but don’t have a real justified reason to not invest in ATL and the region.

JDW

May 31st, 2012
10:19 am

@Kyle…”But don’t you think we ought to know how much those costs will be?”

You do know how much those costs are…”$767.9 million, is estimated for these projects’ operations and maintenance for 10 years, as required by law. ” I don’t understand the surprise.

“And don’t you think we should have a plan for how to pay for them?”

There is a plan to pay for them. It is funded for 10 years and if at the end of 10 years,or before, it is decided not to fund them then that could be done as well.

“And don’t you come on here pretty much every single day and accuse George W. Bush of having failed to do that?”

If Bush had funded his plans for 10 years with an option at the end to continue or not I wouldn’t have nearly the problem with him that I do. He didn’t fund anything for anytime!

You are presenting the program as “disingenuous” because funding is “only” earmarked for ten years. Most government or business programs with on-going costs are budgeted annually. You should be breathing a sigh of relief that the projects are funded for 10 years and we don’t have to do this every year.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
10:21 am

We have already tried the Obama-CasinoStyle “we dont know what we are doing but lets do something anyway to make ourselves look good, regardless of the outcome”.

And it just isnt working that well. Why compound the problem.

iggy

May 31st, 2012
10:23 am

Ive given my reasons.

JDW

May 31st, 2012
10:24 am

@Kyle…I have said before, I think the TSPLOST represents an abdication of responsiblity on the part of the current Legislature. However, as there is no chance they will act in the event it is not approved so once again we are in the postion of holding our nose and voting for the least objectionable option.

My issue with your approach is that you could use your pulpit to push an alternative, as you have done with ethics, rather than simply advocate doing nothing.

Kyle Wingfield

May 31st, 2012
10:27 am

JDW: Yes, but that $767.9 million figure had not been reported before today, in my column — in large part because it’s only been compiled in the past few weeks. So, yes, there is an element of surprise here, in terms of how much money we are talking about.

“… if at the end of 10 years, or before, it is decided not to fund them then that could be done as well.”

So, for example, we’re going to spend a total of $1.3B on the Beltline and Clilfton Corridor transit — and then, at the end of 10 years, just stop running them? You cannot possibly believe that. If you do, you’re the only person on Earth who does.

So the first question becomes, where does that money come from, if not a renewed T-SPLOST? And the second one becomes, shouldn’t we have that conversation NOW?

Kyle Wingfield

May 31st, 2012
10:29 am

“you could use your pulpit to push an alternative”

There are still two months to go before the vote.

Junior Samples

May 31st, 2012
10:36 am

Unless we want to become obsolete in the corporate markets, we have to pay. Roads have to flow, trains need to run. If you can’t get from point A to point B, then who will want to keep their business here?
Don’t worry, if we do nothing the problem will take care of itself.