Atlanta since World War II has had two visions. The first was that it would become the Business Capital of the South. A foundational principle that evolved later from that vision was that it would be The City Too Busy to Hate.
The latter was the genius of marketing, but the phrase helped the city’s exceptional leadership catch the attention of entrepreneurs, pioneers and others who wanted to become a part of that dream. The myth became aspirational and, in many quarters, the myth became reality.
As it did, Atlanta prospered.
Atlanta’s second vision was that it would become a city of strong, independent neighborhoods, like Virginia-Highlands or West End and that development would be managed to serve neighborhood interests. The successful efforts to block the proposed Stone Mountain Freeway, for example, served existing neighborhoods, but cut downtown Atlanta from easy access to the growth areas of DeKalb and Gwinnett.
Decades later, Atlantans pretty much have the city they want. It’s no longer the dominant center of Metro Atlanta. Except for a few retailers like Ikea, it’s commercial district serves nearby neighborhoods. Businesses that are not targeting nearby neighborhoods are drifting elsewhere. The New Downtown is between Cumberland Mall and Perimeter Mall.
Atlanta has a mayor’s race underway. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, to hear the candidates run-out the same shop-worn ideas that surface in campaigns, but aren’t very practical for governing. The consensus seems to be that somebody else should help Atlantans bear the bills for decisions made by the kinds of politicians they have chosen to elect. That somebody else is either the federal government, the state government, or “commuters.”
The inability to manage crime and budgets threatens to turn Atlanta into a beggar city. Highly-publicized murders 30 years ago of a visiting research physician, Dr. Marc Tetalman, and of 26-year-old Patricia Barry, a legal secretary in the law firm of former Gov. Carl Sanders, were devastating blows to downtown, then the business and commercial center of Metro Atlanta.
Adding a so-called commuter tax to address Atlanta’s spending problems would be a devastating policy choice for business. Businesses would be forced either to raise salaries to cover the additional tax or they’d be forced to relocate to affordable labor.
Liberals and conservatives alike love to tax non-residents and the unborn. A commuter-tax, however, will be the blow that finishes turning the city into a fiefdom of independent neighborhoods, all clamoring for a Publix, Whole Foods or Kroger subsidized by somebody else. Non-residents who might have been available to create the critical mass necessary to support those businesses will vote on a commuter tax with their feet. Atlanta, Small Town U.S.A.