Oh, my, here we go again. Another mayoral election looms in Atlanta, a city of padded payrolls and excess spending and what’s the cure candidates are embracing? Finding money from somebody else.
Candidates were asked for their views on a commuter tax. Here’s the answer from candidate Mary Norwood: “We could break this logjam if — assisted by a forward-thinking governor — we could make a commuter tax not about Atlanta but about equalizing burdens throughout the region; net daily destination jurisdictions should get some kind of contribution from net daily sources of employee outflow.”
Admittedly, her embrace of a commuter tax is more nuanced than most. Typically, a commuter tax is seen as a way to punish those “suburban” dwellers who work downtown, where they drink water, flush toilets, pollute, cause garbage and cry out for police protection. That’s the 1970s view that lingers.
The reality is that a commuter tax would be a policy disaster. There are no barriers — no oceans or mountains — that hold employees and employers intown. Besides, water and sewer service charges, employer property taxes and the sales taxes paid by workers from out of district compensate local governments for services. No “forward-thinking” Republican governor is in the running who will propose a commuter tax.
About a fifth of Atlanta’s general fund budget goes to pay pensions. It really is time for the city to get its financial house in order and stop looking elsewhere for a bail-out. One prudent course for Atlanta and all other state and local governments would be to shift all future employees to a pension plan that is the equivalent of a 401(k). Politicians have to eliminate the temptation to hide future costs and to satisfy complaining employee by passing the cost to shut them up to the grandchildren.
The mantra among elected officials in Atlanta is “it’s not my fault.” Well, it is. There’s no “forward-thinking” governor coming to the rescue and there’s not rich uncle or non-resident to tax. The mayoral election is Nov. 3. The politicians should stop kidding themselves and the voters.