The unlikely partnership behind TSPLOST opposition

Colleen Kiernan couldn’t remember the exact day the alliance was formed. But it was over lunch, and definitely in the spring, said the director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Right around Earth Day,” Kiernan said, using a marker that probably never occurred to her partner, Debbie Dooley, a founder of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots.

At table that day, the two women from opposite ends of the political spectrum quickly discovered they had something in common. “Conservatives and Republicans are not the only voters that distrust their elected officials. There is a lot of distrust among Democrats as well,” Dooley said.

If the transportation sales tax in metro Atlanta scrapes through on Tuesday, the partnership between Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and their last-minute efforts, will get much of the credit.

If the measure fails, victors raising their hands will range from Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a Republican from Woodstock, to John Evans, the DeKalb County NAACP president who confronted Reed last week — however ineptly.

But the crux of this disparate opposition has been the partnership between the Sierra Club, one of the few environmental groups to stand against the sales tax referendum, and a tea party movement unafraid of forming temporary friendships.

Differences were supposed to make even a short-term alliance ineffective. The Sierra Club opposes the TSPLOST because its $6.2 billion spending package doesn’t include enough rail. Tea partyists have denounced the same package for including too much emphasis on rail.

But suspicion of cronyism and back-room deals has served as an effective, non-ideological glue for both sides. And by sticking together, the two groups have permitted right and left wings to communicate and coordinate in a way that otherwise would have been unlikely. For instance, state Sen. Vincent Fort, a liberal Atlanta Democrat, recently wanted a tea party presence at an anti-TSLOST event he was organizing He called an old ally, Sierra Club lobbyist Neil Herring, who completed the connection. Problem solved.

On Friday, the Sierra Club and Atlanta Tea Party Patriots held a news conference at the state Capitol – but not for a final push against the TSPLOST. They were much too confident for that.
They were there to talk about Plan B — what should be done beginning Wednesday, should the transportation sales tax be defeated. Leaders of the two groups picked out the areas – pipe dreams in some cases, common sense in others — where they will continue to agree. Among them:

— Consolidate the three current, complicated taxes on motor fuel into a single tax dedicated solely to transportation. A portion of a state tax on gasoline, worth about $175 million a year, currently goes into the state’s general fund. Additionally, some of the tax on gasoline is applied per gallon pumped. The two groups say gasoline taxes should be fixed to the price. Prognosis: Dim, given that this would likely be condemned as a tax increase.

— Rather than the current, proposed system of 12 regional tax districts, shift toward a system built on smaller agreements between pairs of counties. Prognosis: Interesting, but unlikely. And it would aggravate metro Atlanta’s basic political weakness – the fact that the region is already divided into too many separate and uncooperative fiefdoms. Should the TSPLOST fail on Tuesday, reaction from the state Capitol is likely to be directed toward more top-down planning, not less.

— Make members of the state transportation board more accountable by reducing their six-year terms to one year. Currently, DOT board members are elected by lawmakers, who cast secret ballots. The groups would have these votes cast in public. Prognosis: Needed, but unlikely to pass muster among state lawmakers who don’t want a governor or House speaker to know who isn’t following orders.

— Reform the operation of MARTA, and increase its funding. Shift revenue – about $300 million — generated by the current hotel/motel tax in Atlanta toward the transit agency rather than a new Falcons stadium. Prognosis: Impractical, given that a deal is likely to be struck with the football franchise before the Legislature meets in January.

But there was also agreement on an idea long overdue. Decades ago, when MARTA was created by the Legislature, white state lawmakers suspicious of rising black political power in Atlanta imposed a restriction on how the transit agency could use funds generated by a sales tax levied on Fulton and DeKalb counties. Only 50 percent could be used for operations. The rest must be used on capital improvements.

The restriction has been temporarily lifted, but that holiday will soon expire. Many Republicans want that restriction to remain – or at least want to exact a large price for lifting it permanently. That isn’t a tea party position, however.

“That may be a position of Republican legislators, but Republicans believe in local control,” Dooley said. “The voters in Fulton and Dekalb pay that tax. The state has no skin in the game. What are they doing, telling the voters that pay that tax what they can do with the money?”

Prognosis: Logical, and perhaps even possible.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

114 comments Add your comment

Proud Voter

July 28th, 2012
12:04 pm

I’m glad they have united. It’s difficult to work against splintered groups for a good cause. I am for t-splost, even with its imperfections. It will be much easier for me to vote against anyone who is against bettering the state of Georgia. I will be able to avoid the tunnel-vision of those who only pretend to be supportive of the economy in Georgia. Yes, I’m glad these factions have united because I don’t want to be a part of any of them. I prefer to continue to work for the improvement of Georgia and do all I can to bring it into the twenty-first century and not get bogged down in errors of the past.

Attack Dog

July 28th, 2012
12:25 pm

No to TSPLOST until the outliner counties, particularly Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton have paid as much taxes for public transit, adjusted for inflation, that Fulton and Dekalb have paid over the past 40-years.

Todd

July 28th, 2012
12:34 pm

As it stands I love seeing who is where on this issue and can vote against those who do not hold the same view I do. I am hearing Debbie Dooley is out soon from some wired Tea drinkers.

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
12:37 pm

I have to say I almost did a spit take when I read the Sierra Club/Tea Party “Plan B” on Friday. Not because it was 2 groups that you wouldn’t expect to see working together, but because it was down right laughable what they were putting forward as a Plan B. It’d be one thing if they had some authority to get these things done, but they don’t. And the likelihood of the state legislature giving up their control over much of what Sierra Tea (sounds like a real product, so my apologies if I’m trademark infringing there) is pretty much nil. Nice to see Jim reporting it and talking about realities because it is time for people to get real about this vote.

Proud Voter II

July 28th, 2012
12:44 pm

I’m glad they have united, too!!

Nationwide, in similar tax referendums and in other ways, we are seeing the left and the right rejecting the “mainstream”. So then it is no surprise that the Sierra Club, Tea Party, and NAACP would stand opposed to the potential for more long-term environmental and social harm to our community — harm via poorly planned development, regressive taxation, and long-time, endemic potentials for public corruption, waste, and fraud.

To me, such unity could be evidence of some real and broad-based change. And we might just see some entirely new community leaders rising out of this tide!

Auntie Christ

July 28th, 2012
12:47 pm

Don’t expect any change in the formula for MARTA’s revenue allocation, or control over MARTA’s funds. The legislators from outside of Fulton and DeKalb will continue to restrict MARTA’s control over their own funds, forcing MARTA to contend with higher fuel and operating costs by cutting back on service and/or raising fares. Since MARTA’s main ridership is the area’s poor, there is no fear of repercussion from any powerful political bloc, so this strangulation of MARTA has no down side. The upside is the white power structure can point to MARTA’s “incompetent” leadership as the rationale for it’s continued starvation and their control over the purse. (Off topic, but germane: The same tactic will be used to defund the public schools of DeKalb and Fulton in favor of the charter schools, if the charter school amendment is passed. The state will control the money going to these counties, directing funds to charters, and the poor neighborhoods will get stiffed just like their parents are stiffed on MARTA).

And if you think any monies from the hotel/motel tax will be going to MARTA instead of Arthur Blank’s new house, you just keep smokin’ that good stuff, it’s hard to come by. Good capitalist legislators and sports franchise owners suddenly get in touch with their socialist side when the owners decide that those 20 year old crappy sky boxes are no longer suitable for their millionaire friends and politicos. We the public will be footing the bill for it while Arthur pockets the profits and mr deal, rogers, cagle et al get the best seats in the house.

Former Tea Partier

July 28th, 2012
12:56 pm

Wake up TEA Partiers! Your so called leaders are only about fame and making a buck off your donations! For them to align with the global warming crowd is a joke with a sad pathetic punch line!

Proud Voter II

July 28th, 2012
12:58 pm

Yes, we simply should have listened when we were told it is Plan A “or the highway”. Why even vote?

Proud Voter II

July 28th, 2012
1:01 pm

It is telling to me that we had a call by the legislature to come up with a T-SPLOST plan to submit to the voters for their approval or rejection. Yet, to voters who choose to reject that plan, the T-SPLOST supporters say that the “opposition” has no alternate plan. But then … when members of the community begin to brainstorm and offer compromises for another transportation plan, T-SPLOST advocates hollar that citizens simply have no authority to do so.

I hope all this does not portend these powers proving that they were right — that is, that the defeat of T-SPLOST will be the end of Atlanta.

Good thing we are still allowed to vote, huh?

n

July 28th, 2012
1:40 pm

A cursory glance at the list of sponsors of the TSPLOST campaign–road builders & planners, real estate developers, construction companies, is enough to convince me to vote against it.
Their almost hysterical non-stop campaign of robocalls, mailings and glossy ads demonstrates clearly that they are fixated on the potentially endless pot of gold that us taxpaying sheep are being bullied into granting them. A blank check for insiders and cronies, to be administers by insiders and cronies.

Refugee

July 28th, 2012
1:42 pm

OT here: Is there any truth to the rumor that Karen Handel will be assuming the Chick Fil-A PR duties?
She is strongly against gay anything and is the quintessential Dixie chick, and she will chow down on those sandwiches like a sow at the trough.

Dan Cathy may well be gearing up for a Jawja Goobernatorial campaign; it worked for another
famous ATL restauranteur, the great Goobernor Lester G. Maddox. It could happen! Cathy and Handel might run as a team. Hand out chicken sandwiches instead of ax handles.

This would be a winning ticket for sure.

Ga Values VOTE NO FOR WASTE, GRAFT & CORRUPTION

July 28th, 2012
1:45 pm

The 1st step to Plan “B” is a no vote on Tuesday. According to Friday’s WSB & the Rosetta Stone poll it’s 55% NO and 35% yes but you must vote to be counted.. VOTE NO ON WASTE, GRAFT , & CORRUPTION.

Sage Boucher

July 28th, 2012
1:56 pm

“The voters in Fulton and Dekalb pay that tax. The state has no skin in the game.”

The state of Georgia would collapse without Atlanta; the whole state is supported by its only major city. I have no skin in your game — I don’t use highways, ever. *I don’t even own a car.* So why should I support your driving, 82% of which is one person-one car, and incredibly wasteful?

IMHO, those who use highways should pay a toll for using it, that goes to the construction and maintenance of those highways. That way, those who use the highways will pay for their use, rather than people who don’t. In other words, it’s like your not wanting to pay for MARTA because you never use it, except it’s people not wanting to pay for your asphalt because we never use it. Which is much more fair. Vote NO!

YeahRight

July 28th, 2012
1:56 pm

To do what this temporary alliance proposes would require a state constitutional amendment (maybe more than one), and lots of legal dancing. Not impossible – but highly unlikely.

Do you really think this proposal would fly? Sure, it would be nice, at least it sounds nice – but to put up an ethereal straw man ‘Plan B’ against an existing ‘Plan A’ appears to be only a ruse to get people to vote down the latter.

How about this? Pass Plan A right now and let’s get started doing something constructive with transportation… and then work to get this proposed ‘Plan B’ implemented over the next 10 years? That way we could replace the current Plan A with something better when Plan A expires!

Come on SierraTea. That would work! Support the current plan NOW, and then support all those nifty proposals to replace the current TSPLOST when it runs out in 10 years?

Somehow I think that will fall on deaf ears (or eyes…).

J Kilgore

July 28th, 2012
2:04 pm

Supporters are naive to think that throwing another $ 1.9 Billion a year of cash into the black hole operating under the disguise of a Department of Transportation is going to solve anything. GDOT cannot manage their $ 2.5 to $ 3.0 Billion annual budget now, imagine the waste, fraud and abuse if you up the annual “funds available” to $ 4.9 Billion. The Chamber of Lies has spent $ 10 Million trying to convince Georgians that we are 49th in the country in transportation spending and that they are a savior with a “jobs plan”, neither of which is even close to be true, and they are STILL losing. Until the Legislators put their “Big Boy” pants on and deal with the REAL problem, which GDOT, the voters should reject ANY plan. And, if after T SPLOST is rejected, the legislators REFUSE to deal with GDOT, then we should immediately start replacing THEM.

Angel Macaroni

July 28th, 2012
2:08 pm

No one with an IQ above room temp. listens to these tea tards. Lest we forget, they nominated a “witch” to run for senate from Delaware.

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
2:17 pm

YeahRight, I’m old and do have a hearing problem but I’ve heard the old “We know the game is crooked but it’s the only game in town” argument more than a few times before.

misterwax

July 28th, 2012
2:17 pm

Vote HELL NO!! on TSPLOST….

Kilgore Trout

July 28th, 2012
2:19 pm

Many possible answers to questions surrounding Atlanta’s T-SPLOST can be found on the web at stateintegrity.org/georgia

YeahRight

July 28th, 2012
2:19 pm

oldfart,
and that’s why we’re in the pickle we’re in right now.

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
2:21 pm

So J. Kilgore, what exactly is the problem with GDOT? I see a lot of people saying they are the problem, that they can’t manage their existing funds, but I don’t see anything that ever backs up that opinion…just a lot of talk and boogey-man big government nonsense.

If you are going to make accusations, come with facts please. Fact, as of just a couple of years ago, the State of Georgia spent less than any other state on transportation than Tennessee. Fact, GDOT is one of the highest rated DOTs in the nation when it comes to on-time, on budget delivery, and they are one of the highest rated in the nation for road maintenance. There’s some facts for you. Where are yours?

Proud Voter

July 28th, 2012
2:27 pm

Hm, I think the whiners will vote against t-splost. They love the “ah ha” moments of I told you nothing will work, everything is bad, they’re all out to get us.

Really? Why would keeping so much money in your region to improve your region with sales tax collected in your region be such a bad thing to build on?

Oh, yeah, I forgot. If the idea to really to something for our great state doesn’t come from a special interest group (most of which are mentioned in this article), then it must be bad.

Wrong again.

T-splost is not the answer to all of Georgia’s transportations ills and corruptions of the past, but it is an answer to helping Georgia get out of the transportation mess it currently has.

If any of you naysayers think for one minute that business and industry will continue to want to do business in Georgia just because it’s a pretty state, think again. In my opinion,you naysayers want Georgia’s economy to be bad just so you can have more “ah ha” moments at the expense of all of Georgia’s citizenry.

Kilgore Trout

July 28th, 2012
2:28 pm

This article tells me that the T-SPLOST referendum will not untie Atlanta as its marketing strategists had hoped.

It is UNITING Atlanta against the long-time inefficiencies of public corruption by special interests, and against government unaccountability.

Last Man Standing

July 28th, 2012
2:34 pm

Cyril:

. . . and exactly how long have you been employed by GDOT?

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
2:38 pm

Georgia ranks 18th in total motor fuel tax rates. How does that translate to being 49th in transportation spending?

afraid

July 28th, 2012
2:39 pm

Beware of tree huggers, civil rights leaders, and anti-tax and anti-corruption activists … Vote YES!!

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
2:40 pm

@ LMS, I’m not, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night. Read up on them, stay engaged, and you might learn some facts too. Sad how much easier it is post hearsay and conjecture than fact.

afraid

July 28th, 2012
2:42 pm

Beware of conservatives, liberals, and necrotizing fasciitis … Vote YES!!

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
2:42 pm

Why can’t GDOT be mandated to spend the motor fuel tax proportionally to the region or even better, the congressional district in which the tax is collected? Why does it have to be a special sales tax even on groceries to be spent by region?

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
2:46 pm

@ Oldfart, quick google search pulled up what you are probably referring to. You are correct, though by my count 1 on total gas tax. Either way, I your point is valid except that not all of that money comes back to transportation. In fact, a good percentage does not. (This is what the Sierra Tea group refers to in one of their proposals even.) Rather, a significant amount of it is sent to state and local general funds to be used as they please. One last point to that, is that most states have additional means of collecting funds for transportation. While GA has the tolls on GA 400 & I-85, that is small change compared to a lot of states.

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
2:46 pm

sorry, meant 1 off on gas tax.

afraid

July 28th, 2012
2:50 pm

Oldfart, this is because it is better for Atlanta’s typical commuters to utilize a disproportionately tax on people who don’t fuel cars. (I use a car, don’t you?) … VOTE Yes!!

afraid

July 28th, 2012
2:51 pm

“disproportionate” tax, I mean. (Fear makes me make mistakes.) Sorry.

Cyril

July 28th, 2012
2:57 pm

@ Old Fart, “Why can’t GDOT be mandated to spend the motor fuel tax proportionally to the region or even better, the congressional district in which the tax is collected?”
This I may be incorrect on, but my understanding is they are required by state law to distribute the money equally among all congressional districts. In paper it makes sense, but then you think of how much more the Atlanta area likely collects because of tourists, conventioners, etc., and it probably would be better for Atlanta if it were based on how much is collected in a region versus an equal share across the state. This is a legislative issue (I think), and I’m surprised to not see the Sierra Tea group pointing to it. But then maybe they did, and Jim just didn’t report on it. Dunno.

yuzeyurbrane

July 28th, 2012
3:10 pm

I am all for cutting Artie Blank’s corporate welfare project (i.e. new stadium) off at the knees and transferring the funds saved to transportation. Why do you say it is impossible? The Governor has to give approval for tax subsidies to go forward and I don’t recall the legislature ever voting to approve new stadium. So political pressure on Deal and/or a lawsuit seem to be called for.

Kris

July 28th, 2012
3:23 pm

I read some of the boondoggle projects (just bits and ices here and there is NOTHING to HELP TRAFFIC…Line a few pockets yes it will. VOTE NO! For those tat want it LET THEM PAY.

No company should be exempt from the tax.

Nip this scam in the bud.
Hello to the GDOT posters and all of the crookedz deal/reed cronies.

There is a cure for greed and corruption.
Vote NO tsp-LOST.

Kilgore Trout

July 28th, 2012
3:32 pm

Hold it, Yeah Right!! (and Cyril):

The article above DOES NOT say that this is any plan B. The fraction of the T-SPLOST opposition described above (the local Sierra Club and Tea Party) is only listing what they would agree on in any Plan B. All they are doing is participating in OUR civics, and in a proactive way. And its about time!! Metrowide, we have been learning for months that T-SPLOST promoters do not welcome participation by naysayers. So your attitudes are a bit worn. And I welcome theirs!

Furthermore, what the “Sierra Tea Club” suggests on is by no means a reason for me to alter my own personal finding that this July 31st T-SPLOST is so unworthy of my “yes” vote. In other words, their suggestions and the details of this T-SPLOST are two very different things.

findog

July 28th, 2012
3:49 pm

The GOP cannot fix the rate of taxation because that would be a tax increase
So we have to put up with TSPLOST
Here is an idea:
What is the current maintenance budget for the DOT
What is the required budget for maintenance
Delta is required revenue
What is the current budget for expansion over next ten years
What is the cost to expand the 85% most overcrowded roads
What is the cost to improve the remaining 15%
Delta 1 is required revenue that should not be able to be manipulated by politicians
Delta 2 what has been lost in the past to waste fraud and abuse
Increase the fuel tax formula to maintain our roads and improve the top 85 percent
As the top 85 percent are improved the politicians can then take care of the last 15 percent

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
3:50 pm

Yep, GDOT is proposing and already building a projected $10 Billion in Lexus lanes and siphoning off huge chunks of motor fuel tax receipts to pay the initial costs with decades before their initial outlays are covered. In a public hearing and an open (turned to closed) Republican meeting GDOT representatives admitted that the Lexus lanes do not help alleviate overall congestion. Since it will not generate sufficient revenue to warrant shunting monies from say, some of the valid projects included in this sales tax proposal I’m left wondering about their motives.

I’m 100% in favor of all motor fuel tax money go 100% to transportation but the state’s portion that is not currently amounts to 3.03 cents per gallon. Local county and city SPLOSTS should not be allowed a ride on the multiple taxes already applied to motor fuels.

And yes logic would have one believe that the districts where the most motor fuel tax is collected are the one’s utilizing the roads the most and need a proportional amount of spending. Logic has never applied to Georgia state politics and this is how we end up with 4 lanes to Bainbridge with a 24 hour average daily traffic of 250 vehicles. If it takes a Constitutional amendment then so be it. We need the money to be spent where it is most needed.

I am also in full agreement with the parties above that the method used to select the Transportation Board has to be changed. The current method is classic backroom political dealing and as opaque as a bridge abutment.

Kilgore Trout

July 28th, 2012
3:55 pm

So if anyone assumed that Atlanta’s left and its right could not agree on a transportation agenda — the Sierra Club and the Tea Party is proving those people wrong. To show common ground along such lines is a strategically sensible gesture to make. Thus, the hope for a more equitable and effective transportation solution is more clearly on the horizon.

Much thanks to these two women and their supporters!

findog

July 28th, 2012
4:12 pm

Cyrill,
How about the widening of Sonny’s State Route 3 while east-west traffic north of Atlanta’s 285 is nearly nonexistent
How about the third lane on I-75 from Macon to Valdosta while GA-400 is nearly impassable in North Fulton during rush four
How about Tom Moreland getting his brother in law to buy the farm right in front of the GA-316 extension just before being funded when he was DOT Commissioner

Bob Loblaw

July 28th, 2012
4:20 pm

To sum up, we’ve got:
1. Two Constitutional ballot questions;
2. Laws already on the books that allow for some of these proposals (Cliff’s notes, anyone?);
3. A blank check to MARTA, paid for by who knows, to “get up to date” (whatever that means);
4. Leave MARTA to itself for all financial operations controlled by Fulton and DeKalb governments with no budgetary influence at the State level (bend over again, Fulton Taxpayers);
5. The rest of the ARC telling what its local legislation should look like; and
6. A suggestion to have hotel/motel taxes pay for transportation. How many local elections will that take? There’s 10 counties. I’ll let someone else count the cities.

Just vote for the T-SPLOST. It’s a lot better than this crap.

Debbie Dooley knows less about transportation than the dog that just ran across my yard. The Sierra Club can’t pass anything in Georgia.

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
4:38 pm

Funny that constitutional thing comes up when this proposal is on very shaky Constitutional ground itself. There is nothing in the state Constitution allowing for regional taxation. The constitutionally mandated districts are only statewide, county and city.

Bob Loblaw

July 28th, 2012
4:52 pm

@Oldfart:

You are correct, counselor. However, the Constitution does not expressly prohibit such districts. Esteemed constitutional attorneys that Bob Loblaw has consulted with believe this will permit regional taxing authority.

Yet Bob Loblaw paid attention in law school! I don’t do latin, but the translation is to “express one is to exclude the other.” Since existing taxing authorities gain such power via the Georgia Constitution, a good argument could be made as you posit.

ank

July 28th, 2012
5:02 pm

personally, i’ll enjoy all these folks voting no rotting in traffic. I drive reverse commute anyway

Mr. KnowitAll

July 28th, 2012
5:08 pm

What is obvious to a wide cross section of diverse groups and people is this TIA is a bad idea and the project list is a blatant scam perpetrated on the hapless taxpayers.

Once TSPLOST loses, the politicians had better realize constituents are awake and pi$$ed and have the organization and muscle to force them to start reforming the DOT, stop skimming from the gas tax, and fix problems with the money they already get.

If not…these same diverse groups will get together and kick their crony arses out of office.

VOTE YES!

July 28th, 2012
5:17 pm

If you vote No you will guarantee a higher gas tax and tolls. That will take more out of your pocket than a 1% sales tax!!! And you wont have any control on where the money goes or how it is tracked.

VOTE YES!

July 28th, 2012
5:18 pm

FACT: GDOT #1 in Nation in finishing project under budget. #2 in finishing on schedule.

http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP20-24(37)A(01)_FR.pdf

VOTE YES!

July 28th, 2012
5:21 pm

Does Debbie Dooley have ANY experience in transportation or transit???

Maybe she can cure cancer too since she’s not a doctor either. What a joke.

oldfart

July 28th, 2012
5:27 pm

Do you have ANY experience in transportation? I suspect you might. GDOT or C.W. Mathews?

And we’ve already been over this, we get the tolls regardless of this vote’s outcome.