The AJC’s polling ahead of tomorrow’s T-SPLOST referendum shows pretty much what I expected: A little over half of the voters in metro Atlanta reject the 10-year, $7.2 billion sales tax, with enough folks still undecided that the final margin will probably be in single digits. (I started to write it’s what “most people” would expect. But, given that we still are getting vastly divergent reports of the decisions of even those voters who have already cast their ballots, I’m not sure there is a prevailing view here.)
That said, there was a somewhat surprising result for one of the questions asked with the main queries about the transportation tax: Two-thirds of metro Atlanta residents also reject the idea of using hotel/motel tax revenues to build a new Falcons stadium downtown.
That’s a stout show of disapproval for spending $300 million of public money to replace the Georgia Dome. Unfortunately, there are no geographic splits for this question. Those would have been useful given that the tax revenues are for lodging within the city of Atlanta — and that residents of Atlanta might be more interested than, say, those in Gwinnett County in keeping the Falcons downtown.
Still, there is an important implication in the likely event the T-SPLOST is rejected. Here is an existing stream of income totaling $15 million to $20 million a year ($17.8 million last year) that in theory could be redirected to what city and state elected officials say is one of our region’s most critical priorities: transportation infrastructure.
Of course, even if all the money could be directed to transportation, it wouldn’t come close to the hundreds of millions of dollars the T-SPLOST would raise each year. But if our elected officials want to gain the public’s trust when it comes to raising taxes for transportation infrastructure, it will take more than another promise to end the toll on Ga. 400. It will take a demonstration that all available revenue sources have been tapped.
After all, as Mayor Kasim Reed once said, leading is choosing. Our leaders can choose to use the hotel/motel tax to replace a 20-year-old stadium — one that is sufficient for all its tenants besides the Falcons, who play in it less than 15 days a year. But they ought not be surprised if the public still doesn’t take them seriously on the issue of new taxes for transportation.
– By Kyle Wingfield