In recent weeks, a few friends have asked me for advice: How should they vote in July’s T-SPLOST referendum?
I asked them where they do most of their driving. Then I rattled off the nearby projects I could remember — and advised them to check the official map in case I had forgotten others. But one guy replied that he wanted to know what’s best for the region, not just himself.
What’s best for the region, I told him, is for everyone to decide what’s best for themselves, and vote accordingly.
Advocates of the 10-year, $7.2 billion sales tax say many of our transportation problems are regional in nature. One of their favorite illustrations is that the project most desired by elected officials in Douglas County was the interchange of I-285 and I-20 west, which sits in Fulton.
They’re right about the regional nature of many of our problems. And it might well be true that the best way to improve commutes for the people of Douglas County is to spend money on projects elsewhere.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that voting for T-SPLOST based on what I think are the interests of people in Douglas, or Cherokee, or Gwinnett, or anywhere else I don’t travel often, is foolish.
If the list includes projects that will ease bottlenecks and free up travelers from Cherokee to their jobs elsewhere in the region, then by all means those people should vote for it. The same goes for everyone else in every other county.
But if it doesn’t help them, why would I expect them to vote for it anyway with the expectation it could improve my commute — even if they don’t know much about the routes I drive and the traffic I face?
While $7.2 billion represents but a down payment toward the tens of billions in new infrastructure local transportation experts say metro Atlanta needs, it is still a large chunk of money. Not everyone in our 10-county region should expect to see all their problems disappear — not by a long shot. But if the list is as good for the whole region as advertised, a majority of voters ought to believe they’ll see enough progress to make it worthwhile.
The reverse is also true. If a majority of voters look at the list and shake their heads, it’s hard to argue the plan is really the best we could do.
It’s not as if the list reflects an obvious effort by local leaders to take a few important, congested corridors and fix them above all else. That approach might have justified spending a disproportionate amount of money in some places. Instead, the project list looks much more like a grab bag in which this county got its top 10 projects, that county got 12 it wanted, and so on.
Again: If that was the right method, it ought to show up in the vote totals.
Some people thinking regionally fret about the message a rejection of T-SPLOST would send to businesses thinking of moving or expanding here. I’d be much more worried about that message if most tax opponents were questioning the need to do anything in the first place.
Instead, the disagreements are largely about what to do and how to pay for it. Those can be resolved if the tax is axed.
Incidentally, this is one of the main ways government spending has grown so large, with so many complaints about how little we get for it. It does no good to vote more spending on education or anti-poverty programs, without recognizing education results have declined and poverty levels stayed flat.
It makes no more sense to vote for a tax that won’t ease the congestion you know, in the hopes it might help the congestion you don’t.
– By Kyle Wingfield