T-SPLOST vote comes down to time vs. money

“The tyranny of the urgent” is how Charles Hummel described the way other people’s demands can get in the way of one’s own priorities. He was talking about personal time management, but the concept also applies to those frequent calls for government to “do something … now!” Kind of like the T-SPLOST.

The latest argument from advocates of the tax, which would raise $7.2 billion over 10 years to fund 157 transportation projects, is about urgency:

“The metro Atlanta region adds one person every seven minutes to its population,” pro-tax Untie Atlanta claims in a recent email. “By 2040, we are expected to add 3 million people — three times the population of Fulton County. Now is the time to invest in our transportation infrastructure.”

The fear factor may be the campaign’s most persuasive argument. Forecasts of how much congestion will ease if the projects are built are fine, but it’s hard to know how reliable they are. Or how much congestion will improve where any given voter/taxpayer/commuter lives and drives.

Or if it’s even a big deal to reduce “congestion” by 24 percent, as forecasters claim. Depending on how one defines the region, the data show “congestion” (vs. mere distance) accounts for six to 10 minutes of the average, hour-a-day commute. So, the data suggest T-SPLOST projects would shrink the average daily commute by less than 150 seconds.

More persuasive are 1) the prospect more people will move here and use our roads and 2) the fact the state will cut transportation funding for metro Atlanta if the tax fails. “It will get worse” trumps “maybe it will get better.”

That said, how urgent is the situation? To put a finer point on it: Are we more short of time to act, or money to act with?

First let’s look at time. The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (TIA), which created this whole process, forbids regions that vote down the T-SPLOST from holding another referendum for two years.

There are warnings it could be several years before a “Plan B” is advanced. But why? If underfunded transportation infrastructure is really one of the biggest impediments to job growth in the region — and it belongs on a list with education quality, access to venture capital and water supply — surely it would be re-addressed sooner.

I think it’s most likely “Plan B” would be another vote, on a new project list, in 2014. Maybe 2016. How many new jobs might we lose in that time? Who knows? But a few years of building new infrastructure is one minimum cost of a “no” vote.

Now let’s think about money, by which I mean the ability to fund transportation projects.

Many of the same local governments backing the T-SPLOST already charge other special-purpose sales taxes, a number of them renewed after the TIA passed but before next month’s referendum. Sales taxes in the region are generally 7 percent, with Atlanta at 8 percent. By comparison, Chattanooga, in zero-income-tax Tennessee, levies 9.25 percent.

So there’s little room for maneuver if we don’t get much bang for our penny. Not to mention that, as I’ve previously reported, this T-SPLOST list would commit us to $60 million to $85 million a year in perpetual transit-operations costs.

And in sheer, raw numbers, we don’t exactly have a spare $7.2 billion lying around.

The question for voters is whether to risk wasting a few years or a few billion dollars — whether the tyranny of the possibly urgent trumps the tyranny of the maybe spendthrift.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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62 comments Add your comment

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

June 11th, 2012
9:10 am

A second obozo term in the White House will reduce congestion a whole lot more than this silly tax will.

John Galt

June 11th, 2012
9:19 am

For the majority of the day the roads are NOT gridlocked and flow at the speed limit or better.

The only thing you know for certain is that in five years, MARTA still waon’t go where you need to go, it will still be faster to drive yourself to the airport than drive to a MARTA station, park, wait for a train, and then head to the airport.

Five years from now, there will still be congestion during rush hour.

Five years from now, government officials will claim they have the solution if only they get more tax dollars.

Serious Robuck

June 11th, 2012
9:35 am

This liberal democrat will vote no. More than 100 little fixes and a few big “studies” will do little to help.

Skip

June 11th, 2012
9:38 am

It’s all the other guys fault.

Jefferson

June 11th, 2012
9:41 am

Hope Atlanta will do something to pay for their problems.

RedHead

June 11th, 2012
9:45 am

My greatest fear is that it will be voted in and before improvements are made we will be told “Oh, By the Way” all new lanes will be Toll Lanes…. that is how the government works

iggy

June 11th, 2012
9:48 am

Whenever the “fear factor” or the “this is a Rush” arguments are introducted then back-off as something ROTTEN this way comes.

clyde

June 11th, 2012
9:50 am

Not to worry.3 million more by 2040 will result in a population decreasing ,mega case of road rage.

Turquorius

June 11th, 2012
10:05 am

If we can ever break away from the Sabbath mentality (Sunday alcohol sales was a step in that direction) and spread the work week over 7 days vs. Mon.- Fri. we will vastly dilute rush hour traffic on the roads.

There is nothing magical about a Sat./Sun. weekend; any two days, e.g. Mon. & Tues., would work just fine for most folks.

dc

June 11th, 2012
10:07 am

Let each county fix their own issues…..this “regional” approach is destined to drive a wedge between those who feel they paid throw the nose, and those who got the “goodies”.

Then let the state figure out the cross county projects, and fund them with existing tax money. This idea of taxing 10 counties to fund the priorities of 2 or 3 is scary.

bu2

June 11th, 2012
10:23 am

It would be funny if all the districts in the state approved it except the Atlanta area.

That would be a much deserved vote of no confidence for the corrupt politicians who run this area.

The choice is: vote yes, tax yourselves, line the pockets of developer friends of the politicians and eliminate the hope of ever doing anything serious about traffic–or, vote no and leave hope that competent politicians will come up with real solutions.

DawgDad

June 11th, 2012
10:29 am

Mr. Galt stated it well.

We have traffic problems. We should see flow and capacity solutions on the table, not this current mish-mash of bad ideas and pet projects that will have little to no impact on traffic flow and capacity. And if we can’t afford to maintain the infrastructure already in place, why build more?

RedHead: Government only works that way if we sit back and allow it. The politicians can only take what the people are willing to give.

Jason

June 11th, 2012
10:35 am

dc, the problem with a county by county approach is that it doesn’t address the problem of cut through traffic. Why should Cobb taxpayers be on the hook for hundreds of millions in upgrades so people in Cherokee can get to jobs in Atlanta by cutting through Cobb? People in metro Atlanta have decided that they simply don’t want to live and work in the same places, which means everyone between point A and point B have to put up with the traffic created by the long distance commuter. And it’s not even a case of “well, just give companies tax money to move to the suburbs” because the majority of traffic already is suburb to suburb. If people don’t want to live and work in the same area, then transportation will be a problem. People choose to live in Newnan and work in Alpharetta and as a result, commutes are terrible.

Which doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for the steaming pile of poo that is TSPLOST. Waiting another two years is better than rushing into a multi billion dollar mistake. We’ll never get anything perfect but we can do better than what we’re voting on. Plus I made the life decisions required to have a short commute so I’m ok with the rest of you suffering from your choices.

MM

June 11th, 2012
10:43 am

A surprisingly sane evaluation of a difficult situtation for a conservative. Take note all you Tea Party weirdos.

ND

June 11th, 2012
10:50 am

It is not even just about congestion as much as it is about attracting a wider array of people to want to live here, and in turn attracting businesses to want to set up here. It’s unfortunate that the metro area is so disjointed that something as obvious as investing in infrastructure requires a referendum and an admittedly imperfect list of projects, but it has to be done if metro Atlanta wants to remain viable economically.

ND

June 11th, 2012
10:51 am

The only thing you know for certain is that in five years, MARTA still waon’t go where you need to go, it will still be faster to drive yourself to the airport than drive to a MARTA station, park, wait for a train, and then head to the airport.

Doesn’t have to be this way, but of course you are also likely the type of person who wants to choke MARTA’s funding until it dries up instead of expanding it so that it will get you where you want to go.

sheepdawg

June 11th, 2012
10:54 am

just vote NO

iggy

June 11th, 2012
11:04 am

No. Marta is a bottomless pit of corruption and waste. The beast which is Marta, needs to be starved into submission.

iggy

June 11th, 2012
11:11 am

More
Arrogannt
Riders
Than
Achievers

Mr. Obvious

June 11th, 2012
11:17 am

When limited-time sales tax increases or toll road fees for “Special Purpose” government pet projects are allowed to come into place by the vote of the people, they tend to never go away.

Once those fees pay off the original project, that tax, instead of being terminated, tends to get “reassigned” to other government pandering projects.

***

see also: Georgia 400 – Toll Fees Pledged to Expire & Toll Booths Removed When GA 400 was paid in full by August 2006.

Did you have to pay a toll to get into Buckhead this morning?

Al of Cumming

June 11th, 2012
11:25 am

Around 57% of the funding for this debacle is to go toward high speed rail and public transportation used by 5% of commuters. A “yes” vote will facilitate installation of more public transit that will lose big money forever to pay for deficit operating costs. If passed, this 1% tax will be PERMANENT as lawmakers will scream that they will have to shut down their choo-choos if we do not extend the tax again and again. The list of projects is far longer than the income from T-SPOST will support. I will vote “NO” as the tax is very regressive and not focused on user pays and because it will subsidize Fulton and Decalb counties, doing little for others in Gwinnett, Cherokee, Forsyth, Henry and other net payer counties. Fund transportation improvements with road user taxes, not taxes on granny’s food and services.

Mr. Obvious

June 11th, 2012
11:27 am

Moving
Asinine Liberals
Rapidly
Through
Atlanta

Cobb County can take care of itself without any [ahem] “assistance” from cesspools like DeKalb or Fulton.

Fulton County can fall through a hole in the ground all the way to China, a place where the South Fulton parasites would fit in swimmingly.

Jefferson

June 11th, 2012
11:28 am

This is a perfect fit for ATL, no so much for the rest of the state.

Centrist

June 11th, 2012
11:30 am

Transportation issues should be funded by existing revenues (income tax, motor fuel tax, property tax, sales tax, and ad valorum – soon to be a registration tax). It is a boondoggle to add another 1% 10 year sales tax which will be used for political favors and unneeded projects. The list is fatally flawed.

Georgia law (Code 32-5-30 Congressional District Balancing) calls for equal distribution of all state and federal tax dollars to be distributed equally across all Georgia congressional districts. The Georgia Legislature can and should change the law so that the funds are used where they are needed to alleviate traffic congestion and make necessary improvements across the state.

Joe

June 11th, 2012
11:38 am

There’s another angle to this that nobody understands. GDOT has the ability to put tolls on the roads without needing voter approval. People don’t like tolls, and GDOT doesn’t either, so here we are voting on alternate funding method. If the T-SPLOST fails, you can bet GDOT will start putting more tolls out there to raise funding. Even if you eliminate all the mismanagement and get GDOT operating at peak efficiency to make the most of the money they take in, they still don’t have even close to enough funding to upgrade everything needed in the metro area now. If they can’t get it through the T-SPLOST, they’ll toll us when we leave our driveways. I-85 already has the toll, and it’s coming to I-75 as well.

This vote is not about whether you’re willing to pay more or not. You ARE GOING to pay more one way or another. It’s just is it going to be via the T-SPLOST sales tax, or via tolls to use the roadways. This vote is about deciding which way you want to pay.

Joe

June 11th, 2012
11:45 am

Meant to add this too – I’m from Virginia where they had tried to pass regional sales taxes to pay for transportation improvements a while back. They tried in Hampton Roads, Northern VA, etc. The votes all failed.

Now there are HOT lanes going in Northern VA, Hampton Roads is tolling all it’s tunnels and bridges, and people are pissed. The VDOT and other state leaders have openly come out and basicly said “We tried to do this another way and voters kept voting it all down. We’re out of alternative options. If people don’t want the tolls then they should approve the sales tax because we just don’t have the revenue otherwise.”

Personally, knowing that I’m paying one way or another, I’d rather do the sales tax than tolls. With a toll, we all pay the same thing. With a sales tax, those that spend more (and by definition have more to spend) pay more, and it makes using the roads easier because there aren’t restrictions on the roads.

ragnar danneskjold

June 11th, 2012
12:03 pm

Practically every element of the problems with regional transportation is attributable to a bad decision to spend by the overlords. If Lawrenceville had a credible airport, congestion and travel times would diminish a full 5%, If the overlords had not funneled a dozen lanes of traffic into six at the downtown gulch, 90% of the afternoon slowdowns would not exist. If State Government did not have its entire bureaucracy within the borders of Atlanta, every day would look like Columbus Day or Presidents’s Day.

With the track record, it is difficult for any sentient being to get enthusiastic about the idea of giving them more money to spend.

Old Timer

June 11th, 2012
12:05 pm

This is a tax to pay for Atlanta area at the expense of the rest of the state. IWhy should a rural county be penalized becasue they did not support the Atlanta Area? The money disparity could be great .

Justvote

June 11th, 2012
12:08 pm

I’m w Joe…Joe knows! As an aside. If raising gas taxes were such a great idea, then why have they not been raised? Have you talked to your legislator, state or federal, to convince them to raise motor fuel taxes is a very simple fix…good luck w that one. I would be OK, with that option, but it’s not nor will it be on the table anytime soon. I’m voting FOR on July 31, of course, as you have already guessed. I also apprecitate “C” saying that we have all the funds needed to fund transportation needs in GA. Great, no need to have any further conversations about this issue. Problem already solved itself.

Out by the Pond

June 11th, 2012
12:15 pm

The fallacy of the whole thing is that you can fix something that is not fixable. From the outset, 1936, with the concept of a downtown connector all traffic in Georgia is funneled through downtown Atlanta. You can not keep making improvements on something that can not be fixed. We need to take a new direction. Move traffic out of Atlanta. I just spent a month driving around this great nation and Atlanta is the only major city that forces all traffic to go through town. 285 is not a bypass, never was, never will be. 75 should be over near ceadertown, 85 Covington. The northern arc killed by Sonny would have provided an adequate northern cross state connector. It’s broke and it can not be fixed, only replaced.

Ayn Rant

June 11th, 2012
12:41 pm

Spending a few billion on infrastructure improvements comes down to time vs. money? What a totally ignorant, completely irresponsible notion!

How about all the jobs that will be created? How about the job-sustaining private investment in business ventures that follow the infrastructure improvements?

America was built by venture capital and sweaty labor erecting structures of steel and concrete, not by lily-livered, shortsighted, greedy “conservatives”saving their pennies, investing in derivatives, and denigrating honest labor.

MrLiberty

June 11th, 2012
12:54 pm

The statements made about this proposal sound almost like guarantees, yet they are not offering up a guarantee that the situation will improve or we will get our money back.

Just say NO. Government is incompetent, and nothing shows this more than their history with bloated overfunded transportation boondoggles.

smottlicher

June 11th, 2012
12:54 pm

Joe is correct, your choices are Tsplost to go along with the gas tax OR more toll roads to go along with the dwindling gas tax.

Also, several people have stated that vote no and the General Assembly will come up with a better plan in two year….NOT…GOING …TO …HAPPEN. You will never again get the various legislators and local pols to look regionally at transportation issues. Yes, there are alot of small local interest only projects on the list, that’s the price of politician buy in. Yes, that stinks. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

Finally: The proposed MARTA and CCT expansions are not “Highspeed Rail” like the California boondoogle.

scrappy

June 11th, 2012
12:55 pm

The transportation problem in ATL will not be fixed until control is taken out of the hands of the counties. All the roads connect & people have to travel & commute through counties – ending planning at county lines is ridiculous. There should be a state-wide agency that steps in and makes infrastructure improvement based on need & the big picture.
Only problem here is all GA “legislatures” & “officals” are totally corrupt & would probably use the funds to build bridges to no-where in rural GA.
This equals no solution, ever, will actually work & ATL will start to die & erode people & jobs.

Trusslady

June 11th, 2012
12:58 pm

Explain to me how bike/walking paths in parks fixes Atlanta’s transportation issues? Explain to me how runway lights and new control tower fixes Atlanta’s transportation issues?
Having done exhaustive research on the SPLOST law here in Georgia, I can tell you that government (from county to state) misuses the funds at every turn.
I will be voting “no”. If they are waiting until after this vote fails to come up with an option “B”, then they weren’t ever serious about the problem to begin with.

iggy

June 11th, 2012
1:01 pm

And BTW, just who is paying for all these T-Splost billboards all up and down the interstates?

commoncents

June 11th, 2012
1:06 pm

iggy-
Those signs are prob paid for by the construction companies hoping to get a big payday and 10 years of guaranteed work

commoncents

June 11th, 2012
1:12 pm

I agree with Trusslady… I will also wait for option B, which I hope will focus on interstate entrance/exit ramps and bottlenecks

yuzeyurbrane

June 11th, 2012
1:14 pm

I don’t know why so many of the commentators have to make this an ideological issue. Kyle has presented a thoughtful analysis of the issue in this and other articles. It is simply a question of what is best for the civic good. Personally, I am still sitting on the fence.

Logical Dude

June 11th, 2012
1:29 pm

It’s merely “Urgent” because it should have been done TWENTY FREAKIN YEARS AGO.

Stupid leadership at the state level has only begotten study and study after survey after survey.

We don’t need any more freakin studies or surveys. We need to fix the bottlenecks, and get cars off the roads to reduce pollution.

Kyle, tell us a better way that this could have happened over the past 20 years, you know, with the state leadership that we’ve had.

Johns creek

June 11th, 2012
1:29 pm

The project list will not reduce the commute time for most people. This tax will be a waste of precious financial resources that could be put to better use. I encourage people to consider this tax very seriously and vote No on the transportation sales tax.

@@

June 11th, 2012
1:32 pm

It’s RUSH HOUR on T-Splost?

“By 2040, we are expected to add 3 million people — three times the population of Fulton County. Now is the time to invest in our transportation infrastructure.”

Only reason I can think of to vote dem for the long-haul…those 3 million won’t have a job to go to.

Of course, we could appoint our liberal friends to head up Georgia’s tourism. They’ll be tellin’ everyone to leave this “backwards” state.

Voting “NO tank-you.”

Kyle Wingfield

June 11th, 2012
1:38 pm

Logical Dude: Do you believe this list reflects the “study and study after survey after survey”? If so, vote for it. If not, think twice.

@@

June 11th, 2012
2:30 pm

T-SPLOST projects would shrink the average daily commute by less than 150 seconds.

Some folks have low standards.

Paul

June 11th, 2012
3:03 pm

The biggest problem I see is that people just don’t trust their government. You know that right now some crook is thinking about some other project they have in mind and trying to come up with some way to dip into it. Transporation problems are bad but what makes you think anything they do will improve it. My step father had a saying….it’s easy to draw a paper a**hole, it’s harder to make it work.

Gary

June 11th, 2012
3:05 pm

Why do we think state transportation funding will be cut if T-SPLOST is NOT approved? There is a good argument that funding will be cut if T-SPLOST is PASSED. Lawmakers from the rest of the state will say, “See, Atlanta is solving its own problems,” and will divert state funding to projects in their own districts. This is rather like the situation with Hope funding. After, money is completely fungible.

Meli

June 11th, 2012
3:20 pm

I’ll just say one thing: Georgia 400 Tolls.

Remember that? Remember how the State told voters ‘if you allow us to put up these toll booths the toll will be removed in 2011?’ Remember how the state told voters, ‘we will only use the money collected from the tolls on 400 for the upkeep of Georgia 400′? Remember how they lied on both counts? If voters vote ‘yes’ on this T-SPLOST, in spite of the promises that once these projects are cmopleted the tax will go away, all that will happen is that in two years they’ll come out with another list of things that have to be approved RIGHT NOW. And then there will be another tax. And another. And another. And the taxes will never go away, the state will see to it.

Dana Blankenhorn

June 11th, 2012
3:49 pm

Despite the racism of this thread, I’m still voting no. Most of this money is going to the suburbs. I’d rather have density, and the lack of good roads is creating density by itself.

Suburbs can address this by creating centers, with a combination of offices, shops, and residential. A walkable Snellville, Lawrenceville — even a walkable Alpharetta and Marietta — will increase density in those areas.

Oh, and what really matters is the future of the economy here. That future is tied to our research institutions. GaTech, GaState and Emory — which are our RESEARCH institutions — are all inside Atlanta.

The suburbs can suck on that.

bu2

June 11th, 2012
5:37 pm

Yes, there is no high speed rail. There is just snail rail. Streetcars running in part on congested streets at the speed of much less expensive and more flexible buses and taking up lanes needed by cars on those congested streets.

I am 1000% opposed to taxing myself so politicians can waste money on “economic development projects.” Taking money from taxpayers to spend elsewhere is not creating jobs. Its just shifting spending. The argument that we should pay a sales tax to create jobs makes me mad. Its telling that is one of their talking points. They really don’t have a good case that this does much useful.

bu2

June 11th, 2012
5:42 pm

@Dana
The lack of good roads is driving jobs out of the center and making mass transit less useful. All these little employment centers may shorten commutes for many, but they force everyone to use cars. Mass transit can’t take everybody to every location. Atlanta, despite having MARTA, is one of the least dense major cities and metro areas in the country.

And Kyle has pointed out previously, that MARTA can’t support its existing operations even with 100% of its sales tax. How is it going to support all this new capacity?