The L-O-S-T in T-SPLOST refers to public trust

There’s a saying for politicians and for those of us who cover them: The voters are always right. While we’re bound to be subjected to a round or two of recriminations about who’s to blame for the absolute debacle that was the metro Atlanta T-SPLOST campaign, pay attention to those who show signs of understanding and accepting that saying. They’re the ones who will be most likely to find the way forward from here.

For my part, here’s what I think the voters were saying in their 63-37 defeat of the $7.2 billion tax.

The political class has lost our trust.

If that sounds obvious, consider that it’s also a puzzling situation, given that many of the same people who voted overwhelmingly against the T-SPLOST have been voting in large numbers to elect the same Republican politicians who gave us the T-SPLOST. I think there’s a pretty clear explanation: This is the consequence of having a one-party state.

Georgia has been a one-party state for pretty much 140 years now. The first 130 years, it was a one-party state ruled by Democrats. The past 10 years, it’s been a one-party state ruled by Republicans and Democrats-turned-Republicans. (Note: I am referring here only to the party holding the levers at the state level, not municipal or federal offices.) For most of those 140 years, there has been very little credible, effective opposition from the minority party. I’m sure it was worse for the Republicans at times between Reconstruction and Sonny Perdue’s watershed win in 2002, but the situation is pretty bleak right now for Georgia Democrats. And that means Georgia Republicans feel very little electoral heat, which leads them to act in a very insular way.

That’s played out no more clearly than in their attitude toward ethics: If legislators are wise, they’ll recognize that the lack of public trust on display in the T-SPLOST vote means they can’t very well ignore the support of 87 percent of GOP voters for a lengthening of the proverbial arm separating lobbyists from legislators. If I heard one voter say he thought T-SPLOST was all about rewarding political contributors and allies, I heard it from dozens of voters. Legislators cannot go too far in trying to improve the negative public perception around our lawmaking process.

Geographically, at least as it relates to the T-SPLOST, you can locate the center of that lack of trust along the Ga. 400 corridor. Perdue arguably lost Tuesday’s tax vote two years ago when he reneged on the longstanding promise to end the toll when the original bonds were paid off. An opinion poll conducted for the AJC, published last weekend, showed the 400 toll extension was a factor for 55 percent of voters — and that 64 percent of voters doubted the T-SPLOST would end when promised and be limited to the projects on the list.

Nathan Deal obviously thought he could show some good faith by announcing recently that the tolls would come down by the end of next year, fulfilling one of his campaign promises. But the AJC’s opinion poll showed the maneuver actually made voters less likely to vote for the T-SPLOST by a net 6 percentage points. The reason, in my view, is that it sends a signal that state government decides when and how to make these decisions on purely political considerations. Bad political considerations, it now appears.

There are a couple of ways for elected officials to show they understand this message. First and foremost, they must demonstrate clearly that all available transportation money is being spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.

That means showing transportation spending really is a priority for the state. All revenues from the motor fuel tax should be directed to transportation; currently, part of it goes to the general fund. When the inflation-driven formula for the motor fuel tax dictates that the rate should rise to keep spending level in real terms, state government should let it rise. Where money can be cut from lesser priorities and redirected to transportation infrastructure, it should be cut and redirected.

As for efficiency, the state needs to be much more transparent about which projects are priorities based on pure cost-benefit analysis, and begin spending the money we do have on the highest-rated projects. If that means re-examining the wisdom of balancing spending based on congressional districts — they might be equal in population, but they aren’t necessarily equal in terms of transportation needs — so be it.

The money I’ve talked about so far would probably be skewed toward roads rather than mass transit, if only because a constitutional amendment allowing gas-tax revenues to fund transit looks like a sure loser. Transit should be addressed in a two-step manner: First, create a truly regional (if not state-run) governance structure for mass transit in metro Atlanta that incorporates MARTA and the other transit agencies. Second, allow voters beyond Fulton and DeKalb to vote in a referendum to participate in the system, with specific descriptions of the infrastructure and services that would come with it. If they want to join, let them join the same way Fulton and DeKalb joined MARTA.

If some of that sounds like baby steps, well, that’s because they are. One of these days, the people who run our government — at the local, state and federal levels — are going to realize a little modesty on their part would go a long way toward re-establishing the public trust they’ve clearly lost.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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1,018 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly D

August 1st, 2012
11:48 am

This is the consequence of having a one-party state.

I keep telling everybody that nothing has really changed now that Georgia is a one party Republican state from when it was a one party Democratic state but nobody listens.

The political class has lost our trust.

This is obvious. I think in the partisan elections, except for the true believers on both sides, most folks are voting for what they consider the lesser of two evils. In this vote, there really wasn’t much of that, it was basically do you trust them or do you not. Looks like most folks don’t.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
11:53 am

An opinion poll conducted for the AJC, published last weekend, showed the 400 toll extension was a factor for 55 percent of voters

While I don’t see a cite for the poll, nor do I know just how much of a factor is being referred to here–that is an astonishing number, considering how few of these voters are affected in any real way by this 50 cent toll.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
11:55 am

The money I’ve talked about so far would probably be skewed toward roads rather than mass transit, if only because a constitutional amendment allowing gas-tax revenues to fund transit looks like a sure loser.

While I don’t disagree with this (or much else of what you’ve posted, actually–good column!) I have to ask–do you think that gas taxes SHOULD, ideally, be able to be used to fund mass transit?

USMC

August 1st, 2012
11:58 am

Hey Kaseem!

How about SYNCHRONIZING the Traffic lights in the city if Atlanta first, then help clean house at MARTA. MARTA…. It “AIN’T” SMARTA. :-)

…..THEN we can discuss larger “INFRASTRUCTURE” projects costing BILLION$ of Tax payer dollars.

I love how the mainstream media is trying to make this a TEA PARTY victory. What a joke. :-)

Class of '98

August 1st, 2012
11:58 am

I guess the AJC won’t have to be the “watch dog” to make sure the T-SPLOST funds are spent as intented, as the editorial in Sunday’s edition in favor of the referendum said they would.

I’m sorry, that made me laugh out loud when I read it.

Tealiban Party

August 1st, 2012
11:59 am

Anyone else see the irony of the Tea Party having their results party at Hudson Grill midtown?

Debbie Dooley and the rest of her minions should stay in the burbs, rally at their local Applebee’s, and stop clogging the intown streets!!!!!

Darwin

August 1st, 2012
12:06 pm

Republicans have gained power by being anti-government anti-tax. How are you going to change those perceptions when you have a tax you and the business community (who contributes to your party) favors? If people think that government is free or cheap, they’re in for a rude awakening. If people think that full private employment is achieved by low taxes and no regulations, they’re going to have to come to terms with that. If people fee that all taxation is now a form of stimulus which is bad (I guess that excludes defense spending), then we’ll see we’re our future lies. We get the type of government we vote for.

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:08 pm

“Debbie Dooley and the rest of her minions should stay in the burbs, rally at their local Applebee’s, and stop clogging the intown streets!!!!!”

Well, all it says is that your cute little stereotypes exist only in your little mind.

I saw a “Tea Party” flag planted front and center in a front in Candler Park yard last weekend; not exactly Applebees territory… Is it. :-)

larry

August 1st, 2012
12:08 pm

I guess the AJC won’t have to be the “watch dog” to make sure the T-SPLOST funds are spent as intented, as the editorial in Sunday’s edition in favor of the referendum said they would.

I’m sorry, that made me laugh out loud when I read it.

I guess you had a real belly laugher when you read about the problems at the Atlanta Public Schools. But, we didnt hear about that from the AJC, did we? Nope, we heard from the town crier.

getalife

August 1st, 2012
12:08 pm

Great to see Americans following the number one rule in politics.

Never ,ever trust politicians.

Make them earn your trust back.

Thank you Americans.

T Harrison

August 1st, 2012
12:09 pm

The shifting priorities and splintering of market share within news media should be part of any discussion about loss of meaningful discussion and compromise between opposing political points of view. Not sure what to do about it, but there it is. How can a trustworthy politician get elected when being trustworthy is too boring to get sufficient press to get elected? I’m afraid things may get worse before they get better.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:10 pm

I love how the mainstream media is trying to make this a TEA PARTY victory. What a joke.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/312859/tea-party-victories-texas-and-georgia-john-fund

iggy

August 1st, 2012
12:10 pm

“Debbie Dooley and the rest of her minions should stay in the burbs,”

I noticed you forgot the NAACP and the Sierra club who also were againsts TSplat.

You’re Welcome!

Piedmont South from North Georgia

August 1st, 2012
12:10 pm

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
11:55 am

_______

I don’t have a problem with motor fuel tax going into the general revenue fund. The idea of spending it only for roads and repairs of roads has never made sense to me. How does this balance out.
Put it in the general fund and let the legislature allocate funds as needed for roads.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:10 pm

from my NatRev link @ 12.10:

The Tea Party’s victories also extended into Georgia’s primary yesterday. Voters in nine of twelve regions rejected a penny increase in the sales tax to fund transportation projects. In metro Atlanta the margin of defeat was 26 points. The tax had been a major priority for Georgia GOP governor Nathan Deal.

Debbie Dooley, the chair of Georgia Tea Party Patriots, said the result wasn’t surprising: “The people are sending a message, and elected officials would do well to take heed: You aren’t getting any more of our tax dollars until you can show you’re responsible and can be trusted with the money you have now.”

Henne

August 1st, 2012
12:11 pm

I second your last sentence. That day cannot come soon enough.

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:11 pm

“Republicans have gained power by being anti-government anti-tax…”

Complete and Utter Foolishness!

NO Republicans are “ANTI-government/ANTI-tax…”

But keep spreading lies to promote your Socialist philosophy if it makes you feel better. :-)

kevin3

August 1st, 2012
12:12 pm

When the public is already being taxed on things just to live or make their families ends meet on a monthly basis; you all can understand why this TSPLOST failed! Lies to Untie all of these Counties when that was a mere lie as well. In Fulton/Dekalb County….all who lived there was about to be taken for a ride that would be impossible to stop. When projects are in arear and more project plan for this transportation, managment becomes a grave problem. Tax payers don’t benefit regardless what was said, money would be used for “whatever” they deemped necessary and there would be no turning back if the TSPLOST was passed. You will not be able to tell Geogia tax payers something that is not true and then like what we have all witness, go back on your word once you get what you want! There is only one way to correct Atlanta traffic; take it out of the city and over it or ensure all major interstate highways do what it meant to do. Some smart person now realize that bring all traffic downtown where all major events are held created a major problems for years going back and now see it can’t be fixed in a hurry or in the manner they wish it could. It is sad that tax payers continue to pay for mistakes that are made on the big boy’s end; and then given back to the tax payers to fund more of their mistakes. I see nothing in the future for this traffic issues…..but merely know that we as tax payers can’t fund anymore money for failed projects that has not been done. Take GA400 money and start your Untie Traffic and see where it goes! TSPLOST can’t fund a New Dome, Parking Facilities, Upscale eateries, hotels, etc, to bring in the “next super-bowl” having fulton and dekalb keeping all of the revenues. That is just part of this problem…rail lines, ARC, street cars, etc., where will those actually take the public? They don’t know and if they did, you will not know the truth until you have voted to past this TSPLOST. We are paying to much in gas fees and to have it as high as it is……. you wonder if that was a test to see if we would keep buying for it to stay at the 3.00 level making oil companies more richer. That to needs to be deeply impacted and we not purchased anymore gas if it can’t go down. Stop telling lies to the drivers of these United States of America, we have stockpiles of oil that can be used; if not, we don’t need to be driving or purchasing new vehicles. Soon, that will also be a grave problem for America too! Gas is not that expensive unless you permit it to be! America drivers needs to be treated fairly…….afterall, oil companies have made more than billions from the driving public; they need to stop their greed and soon, they will feel that hurt just as we have.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:13 pm

NO Republicans are “ANTI-government/ANTI-tax…”

“Man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”

I don’t know how much more anti-government you can get than that.

itpdude

August 1st, 2012
12:13 pm

I take the 400 toll road. Even have a Cruise Card (or do we call it PeachPass now?) to avoid having to scurry up the change or pull out my wallet to pay the toll, much to the detriment of public safety. I really don’t mind paying the dollar a day (it is only a dollar, afterall) to use 400.

However, when Sonny reneged on the 400 toll promise, and did so in a dishonest and disgusting fashion, it confirmed every ugly thing we typically think of politicians. They lie, they cheat, they arrogantly flout their promises, and they have no shame.

The issue was never the dollar. The issue was the lie. We traded a slimy governor named Sonny (who should be investigated for several land deals set up during his term for himself and his buddies) for a current governor who fled the US House to avoid ethics charges, has/had massive debt problems that appear to tie him to certain interests, and is now paying off penalties for campaign misdeeds.

Why the hell SHOULD I trust the same politicians to tell the truth? They’ve been lying to me for years. What’s the saying? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for the thousandth time, shame on me.

TSPLOST, on paper, should have passed. It had a HUGE advert campaign, backed by business, backed by the black business establishment in Atlanta, backed by the major Republican icons in Georgia (our governor, a US Senator), and white liberal support, particularly intown white liberals. It had a nice mix of public road transit and rail transit.

It still lost. Almost everyone I personally know (anecdotal evidence, I know) who voted “No” argued, “the tax will never go away and the money won’t be spent on the proposed projects.” Why do they say that? GA 400, sales tax for water, specific taxes and fees being stolen from particular agencies to go to the general fund, etc. In other words, they didn’t believe the politicians or captains of industry about the whole damn thing because they’ve been lied to too many times. End of story.

Darwin

August 1st, 2012
12:14 pm

I suggest we now move to vote for and against other taxes (local, state and federal). I don’t want to be taxed for any more unwanted military aircraft made by Lockheed Martin. Please stop my state Medicaid and federal Medicare taxes to the poor and elderly (who squandered their savings on vacations and kids_. Oh, there’s so much more. This is the future – I hope. :-)

the cat

August 1st, 2012
12:15 pm

I voted no but it sure wasn’t because of the whacked out tea party and debbie dooley. Not sure why they are taking credit.

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

August 1st, 2012
12:15 pm

Romney explains ‘culture’ remark, blames media for bad press

Classic Republican move. Right out of the playbook.

When they step in it blame the “liberal” media

In other words the media they dont control. Like Fox.

Joe Mama

August 1st, 2012
12:15 pm

USMC — “NO Republicans are “ANTI-government/ANTI-tax…”

Doesn’t Grover Norquist want to shrink government to the point where it can be “drowned in a bathtub?”

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:15 pm

I don’t have a problem with motor fuel tax going into the general revenue fund.

that’s good to know, but I’m really interested in Kyle’s take, since he seemed to be implying that he WAS ok with such a thing, personally, but that it would be a “loser” electorially.

(which I tend to agree with, although you never say never…)

Tealiban Party

August 1st, 2012
12:17 pm

And Debbie Dooley resides in Dacula. Thanks for playing USMC.

md

August 1st, 2012
12:19 pm

“do you think that gas taxes SHOULD, ideally, be able to be used to fund mass transit?”

No…….if mass transit needs more money, apply a tax to mass transit. Same concept, the users pay the tax.

Barry & The Magic Teleprompter of Destiny

August 1st, 2012
12:19 pm

Ron Paul was the only Presidential candidate this year, from EITHER party, who was willing to give us back our country, regardless of his foreign policy.

On a State Level, the Reagan Republican now has ZERO confidence (and even less trust) in the current State Legislature and Governor.

The push for HOT Lanes already paid for in full by taxpayers, the DNA Sample now needed for a GA State (not Federal) Driver’s License and this ridiculous T-SPLOST are cases in point as to why.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:20 pm

Romney explains ‘culture’ remark, blames media for bad press

“What I meant was, those Jews are really good with money! how is that insensitive? It was a compliment, for Pete’s sake!”

Piedmont South from North Georgia

August 1st, 2012
12:20 pm

I don’t have any problem with Mitt not paying any taxes for ten years. He didn’t write the tax laws, congress did.

Maybe he had most of his money in his IRA and the rest in tax exempt municipal bonds. There are lots of legal ways to avoid or postpone paying taxes.

I just have a problem with him being a twit.

Tealiban Party

August 1st, 2012
12:21 pm

Enter your comments here

Never can tell

August 1st, 2012
12:22 pm

Is Joseph here today?

Kyle Wingfield

August 1st, 2012
12:22 pm

stands: No, I’d favor keeping the gas tax funding roads and use other revenue sources for transit. Besides tolls, which I also think will have to expand, the gas tax is as close to a user fee as we have for roads.

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:22 pm

“I don’t know how much more anti-government you can get than that.”

I would say there is a GIGANTIC difference in ANTI government/taxes and LIMITED government/taxes, but I don’t expect to change your (closed) mind. :-)

The author even gives you a clue…. the word “limited”…
“Man is not free unless government is LIMITED.”

Joe Mama

August 1st, 2012
12:22 pm

Barry & Magic Teleprompter — “Ron Paul was the only Presidential candidate this year, from EITHER party, who was willing to give us back our country, regardless of his foreign policy.”

Just out of curiosity, what was your opinion of Buddy Roemer? I know he didn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting the GOP nomination, but did you look into his positions at all? If so, what did you think?

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:23 pm

apply a tax to mass transit.

you mean, increase the fare to fund all operations? end subsidies?

Tealiban Party

August 1st, 2012
12:23 pm

I hope Debbie enjoyed her commute from Dacula to midtown on those taxpayer funded roads and highways.

Darwin

August 1st, 2012
12:23 pm

USMC – What?
“Republicans have gained power by being anti-government anti-tax…”

Complete and Utter Foolishness!

NO Republicans are “ANTI-government/ANTI-tax…”

Talk about a blogger’s credibility going out the window. OK, they’re the party for big government and deficit spending. Plenty of examples for that.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:24 pm

No, I’d favor keeping the gas tax funding roads and use other revenue sources for transit.

thanks for the clarification.

ImmaLetUFinish

August 1st, 2012
12:24 pm

“Second, allow voters beyond Fulton and DeKalb to vote in a referendum to participate in the system, with specific descriptions of the infrastructure and services that would come with it. If they want to join, let them join the same way Fulton and DeKalb joined MARTA.”

YES!

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:24 pm

“And Debbie Dooley resides in Dacula. Thanks for playing USMC.”

The point went flying WAY over your head. LOL!
(thanks for the stuffed animal prize)

PMC

August 1st, 2012
12:25 pm

Vincent Fort, the Sierra Club and the Tea Partiers all happy at one time, politics sure makes for strange bedfellows.

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:25 pm

The author even gives you a clue…

the “author” was Ronald Reagan.

Old Timer

August 1st, 2012
12:26 pm

Sales tax, Income Tax, Property Tax, Bad economy, Unemployment. Just when does a Politican try to become a Statesman?–Answer–when he gets his hind end beat. The Gold Dome syndrome still dulls minds regardless of Party. The money spent on the TSPLOST campaign could have patched a lot of potholes and sync’d traffic lights.

Steve

August 1st, 2012
12:27 pm

Mr. Wingfield misses one key point about the GA 400 issue. Purdue did not end the tax, he PROMISED to end the tax roughly 1 1/2 years in the future. This gives him plenty of time to “change his mind” (lie) and not end the tax. A politician’s promise is worth it’s weight in feces.

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:27 pm

“Talk about a blogger’s credibility going out the window. OK, they’re the party for big government and deficit spending. Plenty of examples for that.”–Darwin

Clear example of the EXTREMIST: You are either 100% for big government or 100% ANTI-government…. No room in the middle to these Socialist ideologues… :-)

getalife

August 1st, 2012
12:28 pm

Did the gambling pass Kyle?

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:28 pm

“the “author” was Ronald Reagan.”

And you still missed the LIMITED point regardless of who the author was. right?

stands for decibels

August 1st, 2012
12:29 pm

And USMC, if you’re definitively drawing a parallel between government and liberty, as if it were some zero-sum game where you can’t have one expanding, ever, without the other contracting?

That’s obviously anti-government.

Ronald Reagan and I just can’t explain it any more clearly than that.

And I didn’t want this to turn into an ideological slugfest–I think Kyle’s made some good points, above–but I gotta say, it’s kind of hard for a conservative movement that’s made its bones on being anti-government, expecting those same constituents to turn around and support something that is, for all intents and purposes, an expansion of state government.

Thus, the loss of faith. (and yes, it’s not *just* because of ideological groundings, but they have to play a major role here, in the results of yesterday’s referendum.)

USMC

August 1st, 2012
12:30 pm

“I hope Debbie enjoyed her commute from Dacula to midtown on those taxpayer funded roads and highways.”

Of which your measly welfare check pays very little of… :-)