My nits with the transportation sales tax vote

Thinking Right’s weekend free-for-all. Pick a topic:

● What you should learn about government and the culture that grows it is this: Often the desired outcome is dictated well before “the people” are invited to speak. That will be the case with the 1-cent metro Atlanta regional sales tax for transportation. It will pass. Two crucial decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats determine that. One is the 10-county grouping. The other, now being made by the Georgia General Assembly, is to push the sales tax referendum from next year’s party primaries to the November presidential election. The decision by the Republican majority to switch to a date that will attract more Democrats further skews the outcome. Need proof? In the 2008 General Election, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats won the 10 counties by a vote of 1,010,941 to 741,596. Two years later, Democrat Roy Barnes defeated Nathan Deal in that 10-county region by 601,323 to 512,862.

● Republicans are getting an unfair reputation as opponents to tax increases. Not so. Many, maybe most, are just opposed to leaving their fingerprints at the scene of the crime.

● Republicans under the Gold Dome are blowing one of the great political opportunities of my lifetime — the opportunity to create a culture that is open, straight with the voters and honestly committed to the principles that conservatives espouse. Transportation policy is an example. Rather than a straight-forward 1 percent sales tax to finance projects that survive scrutiny on an honest cost-benefit basis, Republicans have come up with a system that continues the age-old practice of parceling out goodies to the interest groups that pack the hearings and work the bureaucracies. It is absurd to allow motorists to sit in gridlock while locking in subsidy-guzzling alternatives that carry a few people from Point A to Point B, but only when government decides to move them.

● About 55 percent of the proceeds of a 1-cent regional sales tax would go to transit, which requires ongoing subsidies from taxpayers and is an option in about 3 percent to 5 percent of trips. About 45 percent will go to road improvements, though a fraction of that is road-widening, which will add carrying capacity.

● Maybe motorists won’t have to sit in gridlock, though. The 90,000 who are often gridlocked in the morning commute south along I-575 and I-75 may be able to purchase relief in the private sector. Requests for bids on reversible toll lanes are going out next Friday. I wholeheartedly support public-private tolling for added highway capacity. The danger, however, has always been that scarce public resources will go to low- and no-solution “alternatives” while drivers in gridlock would be forced to, in effect, pay twice — once as a tax and again as a toll.

● Gov. Nathan Deal sets off the alarm with his casual assertion that if the group selecting transportation projects felt it necessary to whittle $80 million from the proposed regional sales tax allocation of $180 million for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, he’d ask the General Assembly to make it up from state funds. This is how government grows and how it spawns gimme-groups of beneficiaries. GRTA should be a coordinating agency, not a service-operating agency.

● Inventive minds can certainly devise a reasonably fair funding system that directs limited resources to solutions that produce gridlock-relief to the most people for the least money. Instead, projects are picked to buy political support. Clayton County governing officials thought, for example, that bus service was not a priority when they were being asked to pay $535,000 a month to provide it. Residents found alternatives, including carpools, vans and private-sector buses. And yet the county will get $100 million over 10 years to restart it.

84 comments Add your comment

Tom

August 18th, 2011
8:46 pm

Obviously the answer to the transportation problem, as to all public problems, is to privatize the whole shebang. It works like magic! Just consider the recent experience of Indiana, led by conservative warrior Gov. Mitch Daniels. The Hoosier State license a 150-stretch of turnpike to a private company. In just over two years, that private enterprise worked a true miracle: it more than doubled the tolls, it completely halted any maintenance or repair on the road or rest areas (some roads have at most one usable lane now–gotta maximize those profits for the shareholders, you know), and the company is about to go belly-up! I’m tellin’ ya, stop all the government waste and just privatize. I guarantee it will work as well as it did for Indiana and even better than deregulation worked for the natural-gas utility industry right here in the Great State of Georgia.

TruthBe

August 18th, 2011
9:21 pm

VOTE NO on the new tax. Why? Because government over spends and ALWAYS ask for more. When is enough, enough???????????????????? Too many taxes and too many reasons why and why not. ENOUGH of this taxes. More millage rates, more percentages, more increases, more new kind of taxes.

jmiles

August 18th, 2011
9:56 pm

Damn, Jim, how about ranting about topics that actually interest people outside of metro Atlanta?

Ron

August 18th, 2011
10:26 pm

What-Nothing about redistricting? This plan makes King Roy look like an amateur.

Evelyn

August 18th, 2011
11:07 pm

I don’t know, Jim. If your party starts up talks again about “broadening” Georgia’s tax base, by doing away with property tax deductions, capping and limiting mortgage interest, and doing away with charitable contributions, and sticking-it to auto repair shops with a new sales tax, any legislation tied to tax changes/increases is going to be met with stiff resistance from Democrats and Republicans. Appreciate your take on the proposed transit tax.

Don

August 19th, 2011
12:37 am

Subsidies? Do truckers pay for the roads? Did airlines build airports, and do they pay for the FAA? Every form of transportation is subsidized, Jim. It’s only discussed with respect to transit. And the fact that is an option on only 3-5% of trips is an argument for more of it, not less.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
1:00 am

goddam Jim Wooten, you can’t dissagree with the man. Hell, they have to hire a woman to squat on his shoes–that’s how good he is at what he does. Which is to state his findings of our ships of state, Atlanta and DC. Oh goody. He might be wrong here or there. Let’s see. Nope. In this case I see nothing with which to disagree.,

You are expert in transportation planning, though, so let’s ask, what would you prescribe, before answering who pays? Seriously, you obviously love this landscape begrudgingly, so what would you want for it? Why isn’t the Paper asking this question of its every reader? ( A: Because the remaining editors are maleducated idiots)

david green

August 19th, 2011
5:32 am

Congratulations Jim for washing that yellow stripe off your back by reopening your comments section.

DeborahinAthens

August 19th, 2011
6:37 am

Republicans create a culture of transparency? You must be joking. From Cheney and his “Energy Committee” which included Ken Lay, the Enron CEO, to our closed room deals with our state legislature that let crooks head the Banking Committee, transparency is not the word that comes to mind. Try corruption, malfeasance, greed…those work.

Steve

August 19th, 2011
7:45 am

The tax in question is a 1% sales tax (Mr. Wooten gets it right once and wrong twice).

To call it a “1-cent” or “penny” tax is false, disingenuous and displays bias. The use of those terms should be stopped.

Wim Jooten

August 19th, 2011
7:58 am

Just give me one more lane of asphalt before I die. I want to run over me some darkies.

Jack

August 19th, 2011
8:12 am

Who’s to stop the politicians from using the new 1% sales tax any way they want to? Nobody. That’s who.

carlosgvv

August 19th, 2011
8:16 am

“the desired outcome is dictated well before the people are invited to speak”

That is absolutely true when the County invites “the people” to a meeting of the County Commissioners to discuss whether property taxes should be raised. You can be certain that no matter what the people say, taxes will be raised. Every time.

carlosgvv

August 19th, 2011
8:21 am

“the opportunity to create a culture that is open, straight with the voters and honestly commited to the principles that conservatives espouse”

Jim, you must have been day dreaming when you wrote this. That kind of political honesty left this Country many years ago and shows no signs whatsoever of comming back.

Eric

August 19th, 2011
8:28 am

Carlosgvv, you’re right about gov. discussion forums–they’re pointless because it’s already been decided. And along with Mr. Wooten and others, I see through this new tax as ineffective. Consider all the other previous transportation taxes and tolls, and yet we still have congestion, smog, etc. from too much growth. Nothing is solved with more taxes at this point. I can’t the public will vote for this once again!

Common Sense

August 19th, 2011
8:31 am

Those riding the GRTA buses in North Fulton must be wearing cloaking devices. The buses are 90% plus empty whenever I see one.

Where are the verified ridership numbers for these projects? Just how much is this costing us for each real rider per year?

No Artificial Flavors

August 19th, 2011
8:42 am

I do believe that GDOT has been belligerently inept in making effecient and cost-effective transportation decisions. However, Wooten takes the almost anarchist view time and again the transportation and infrastructure projects should be privately funded and ran. Surely he is smart enough to undrstand that these types of projects are one of the basic reasons for local and state governments to exist due to the purchasing power in economies of scale. Also, no private companies can afford the long-term debt or upfront costs along with the high risk of running a company that may take decades to turn a profit. That is why governments exist. Remember, most county commissions real titles are “commission of roads and bridges.” Stop letting hatred of the federal government impede progress here at home with asinine articles like these that only serve to stoke the fires of the ignorant amongst us.

joe in the mtns

August 19th, 2011
8:44 am

If republicans are so against subsidizing transit why is the governor going to washington asking for a $50 mil subsidy to deepen the port of Savannah. Shipping is a private business, why shouldn’t the companies using the port pay to deepen it???? If tolls are the answer for our highways they should be the answer for shipping.

jj

August 19th, 2011
8:44 am

I thought the projects would really be about public transportation. I agree with Jim that it is just a buch of handouts to try to keep everyone in the game. I do not have a transportation degree but I know this is what Atlanta will support:
Rail up 75 to town center
Rail up 400 to Windward Parkwauy
Rail up 85 to the 316 split
Rail East on I20 to Conyers
Rail West on I20 to Douglasville
Rail South on 85 to Peachtree City
Rail south on 75 to around McDonough
There you have it, every region taken care of and a rail system that actually supports where the people live. If someone has a better plan, let’s hear it
If the 1% doesn’t take care of the cost add a few cents to the gas tax for the entire state. Atlanta is the engine for this state so let the whole state pay. If the dollars from Atlanta didn’t flow out the way they do the rest of this state would be a third world country.

Aquagirl

August 19th, 2011
8:54 am

We get it, Jim, they can have your steering wheel when they pry it from your cold, dead hands. Unfortunately that may be the case, as you are entering the phase of life where that discussion about handing over the car keys looms around the corner. And I’m sure you’ll expect a friend or family member to drive you everywhere, it’s not like they’re fighting to keep their jobs in this economy.

saywhat?

August 19th, 2011
8:58 am

jj- add a rail line along the 285 loop and you have a winner.

saywhat?

August 19th, 2011
8:59 am

Or maybe we could just pave all of Georgia, no lanes, no problem, can’ty have nanny state types telling you where you can and can’t drive.

quick work break

August 19th, 2011
9:15 am

jmiles: the A in AJC stands for Atlanta. kthanksbye

Steve - B

August 19th, 2011
9:19 am

‘quick work break’ @9:15

Those were my thoughts exactly.

Enough

August 19th, 2011
9:27 am

Why should I give up another % of my income to help relieve those poor darlings in their mcmansions living outside of the perimeter. If they want to fund the expansion of transit the benefits them, then the funding should come from those counties outside of Fulton and DeKalb.

Peter

August 19th, 2011
9:38 am

Jim, You just can’t trust a Republican…….. Ga 400 toll is one example, and ” transparency “…….WOW that is a JOKE !

DawgDad

August 19th, 2011
9:43 am

“I wholeheartedly support public-private tolling for added highway capacity. The danger, however, has always been that scarce public resources will go to low- and no-solution “alternatives” while drivers in gridlock would be forced to, in effect, pay twice — once as a tax and again as a toll.”

Well Jim, you got it wrong and right in the same breath.

As a Cherokee County resident I’m putting our leaders on notice: If this transportation tax passes in its current form I will NOT vote for any additional or continuing local taxes. We pay enough taxes; too much. Cut the waste and unnecessary spending. There is plenty of money flowing into the coffers, it’s just not going out to the right places.

DawgDad

August 19th, 2011
9:45 am

jj: None of the above. Better plan.

Rafe Hollister

August 19th, 2011
9:56 am

Boortz was correct, how can anyone vote to give more money to the GDOT, the geniuses that gave us the I-85/400 interchanges and the downtown connector. I guess we expect them to do better planning this time, why? The thing that would have done more to eliminate congestion on the top end was the outer perimeter, but no one had the cajones to build it over the opposition. Now everything else is a piecemeal bandaid trying to compensate for that failure. WE would not need that I-75 bandaid, if you could easily get from Dalton to Gainesville.

I am tired of these 1% taxes, just a lazy way to govern. We have the SPOST for Schools, parks, roads, education, libraries, jails, and pray tell what is next. What does government do with all the money they rake in. There never seems to be any left over to do the functions of government, roads, schools, jails, etc.

I am voting no, although you are right, the outcome is predetermined.

DawgDad

August 19th, 2011
10:10 am

Why not make the connector a toll road? You want to relieve congestion and make the car drivers pay, there’s the BEST place to start. Why make residents in the outlying counties pay for what you are not willing to pay for?

Steve - B

August 19th, 2011
10:15 am

The post at 7:58 needs to be removed, I went to “report this link” but it was to much red tape.

amazed

August 19th, 2011
10:43 am

You got it right Jim. Its just a bunch of wish list projects with no attention to what really is cost-effective. Some on the original list were contradictory. Many, like the Beltline light rail, haven’t gone through any rigorous analysis (the latest proposal is dramatically different from the original circle proposal and just unveiled a few months ago). There don’t seem to be many of the small projects that every other metro area in the country seems to realize are helpful, just mega projects-transit, interchanges, that politicians can claim and get named after them. But if you really want to see what is driving this, look at the Atlanta Regional Commissions criteria for evaluating projects. You get points for things like SLOWING traffic.

Hillbilly D

August 19th, 2011
11:29 am

Public/private toll lanes is a hare-brained idea if there ever was one. One of two things will happen.

1: Nobody will use them and that will result in all the traffic being concentrated into fewer lanes.

2: Lots of people will use them, so they’ll need another toll lane, taken from the existing non-toll lanes. That will result in more congestion, also.

In my opinion, public/private toll lanes is just a way for somebody’s buddy to make themselves a lot of money. And they’ll be doing it in lanes that the taxpayers paid to build, already.

The more roads you build, the more traffic you’re going to have. The cars will come to fill them up. I remember when the Downtown Connecter was going to be the be-all/end-all of Atlanta’s traffic problems. I remember the same with I-285, Spaghetti Junction (in its various incarnations), and many others. The real solution is to not base your economy on constant development. It’s a mistake that Atlanta/north Georgia has been making for over 40 years and they show no signs that they’ve learned a thing.

The Outer Perimeter never had anything to do with traffic, it was a developmental highway. Do some research and see who owned the land at all the major interchanges.

A road from Gainesville to Dalton would do nothing to ease Atlanta’s traffic problems. The people in the area don’t want it and never have. Its major backers are the owners of the carpet mills in Dalton and Gainesville because it would benefit them. Oh, and there is a DOT commissioner whose family owns several hundred acres within rock throwing distance of the proposed route.

amazed

August 19th, 2011
12:03 pm

I’m not a particular fan of leasing toll roads since the government’s goal is moving people & goods while the private entity has a different goal-to maximize profit. But toll roads themselves work perfectly well all over the country. And public/private partnerships don’t have to involve them owning the road. It could be basically a financing and construction mechanism. We already let private companies build the roads and pay them for it.

As for toll roads filling up its simple economics. Many are adopting variable pricing to keep traffic free flowing. Charge more during the peak, less when there is less congestion.

I don’t see what your problem is with helping keep jobs in Dalton by providing better infrastructure. Dalton desperately needs jobs.

As for not building, there was a promo for the Houston rail system, “What if we DIDN’T build it and they came anyway?” What if we didn’t build more roads and more cars & trucks came anyway? Are you going to try to have bad infrastructure so the population will remain stagnant or decline? If you don’t grow, the best and brightest go somewhere that is growing.

Jeff

August 19th, 2011
12:11 pm

Steve – B, you’ve got it right. I’m not sure why the AJC 1) makes it sooo difficult to report an offensive post; 2) doesn’t post and enforce a blogging policy like other newspapers; and 3) doesn’t seem to monitor the comments that people post.

The AJC is about the only online paper in the state that seems to allow and encourage offensive, dumb, ignorant, racist and intentionally provocative posts on their blogs. There is no reason for it, and it continues to baffle me why the AJC would want to associate their brand with such low standards.

Oh, uhm, never mind.

Road Scholar

August 19th, 2011
12:16 pm

Rafe: The SR400/I 85 interchange was constructed that way due to politics. The COA said that they would not fight the SR400 Extension if it only served downtown. The other ramps to/from I85/SR400 to the north were designed in 1988; they were not built due to politics and the uncertainty of revenue projections done at that time.

As for the Dowmtown Connector, there was a plan that had two separate north/south Interstates through downtown. It was nixed due to impacts to neighborhoods. One went through Vine City and the other was east of the current Interstate. It was nixed much like the Outer Perimeter was because of impacts .

Guy Incognito

August 19th, 2011
12:54 pm

That 7:58 is a rather lame attempt by a lib to look like an “R” word.

If it’s “N” word for ___, then it has to be “R” word for “redneck.”

Time to go bow down to Oblahblah good little lib

Lee

August 19th, 2011
1:02 pm

Many years ago, the “donut” counties refused to participate in a one-cent sales tax to fund the MARTA system. Their reservations were well founded as MARTA continues to prove to be one of the most mis-managed public transportation entities in the nation. (Remember when they appointed a “welfare queen” to the board?)

The Xpress transit busses worked well for awhile. However, in recent months, I have noticed the maintenance seems to be lacking. Nothing like sitting in a hot bus for an hour because the air conditioning doesn’t work. Add to that the cost of the pass has increased to the point where it is cheaper to drive.

Bottom line, transit will never work unless it will take you where you want to go faster and/or cheaper than you can drive.

Rafe Hollister

August 19th, 2011
2:47 pm

Hillbilly

Have you ever tried to drive across the top of the state, like from Cartersville to Cumming via GA 20. You will spend the better part of the day behind a truck or tractor. You have no choice but to drive down to 285 and across and back up 85. There are thousands of trucks and cars each day that we could get off the metro freeways if we had a thru way of some sort.

Road Scholar,

You are correct that politics has adversely affected planning for the roads, but it is still here and will be involved in the next round of planning as well, so do we expect better results?

Dorothy

August 19th, 2011
5:10 pm

I’m not really sure what a “nit” is but you should see a doctor about that. I’m sure they have some sort of cream for that.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
5:15 pm

It’s always impressed me, how much transportation savvy resides in this blog. Jim’s own points all seem carefully considered. Although I used to work very closely with skilled transportation planners, still it’s not my bailiwick, though we all in Metro Atlanta certainly have skin in the game. Kudos to jj for the specific shopping list of road improvements. The risk of sounding naive, I wonder, are “improvements” enough? Is there any market at the Capitol for really deep radical restructuring of transportation in North Georgia? I don’t mean to imply costly changes in modes of transport (I agree with Mr. Wooten about the futility of that approach), but rather am thinking of Atlanta’s counterproductive map of concentric circles, rim-within-rim, with only passing glaces at a hub or a spoke? Is it simply too late to reground the city’s arteries on a sensible grid pattern that would, long-run, save time, money, lives, the environment? Is that necessarily too expensive? Too political? Too confiscatory? Too Murphy-ridden or impractical? Too ambitious, I guess, is my question. As I’m a Georgia transplant it’s really not for me to say. When I look at antebellum maps of this part of the state, even they make more sense than does the present Rube Goldberg device. It’s apparent that greater Atlanta is the victim of hyper-politicized, ad hoc improvisations. Is there no exit from this mouse trap?

amazed

August 19th, 2011
5:30 pm

@Glenn
Its not too expensive to change. Politics I don’t know. The no new roads crowd here has the ears of many politicians in addition to the NIMBY groups.

Houston has made vast improvements in what was a disconnected mess in what was called “pothole city USA” in the 70s. They took separate roads and connected them. Sometimes one road went through a residential area and was difficult to improve, so they connected to a different road to create a seamless arterial when it was actually 2 different roads.

No Artificial Flavors

August 19th, 2011
5:55 pm

Fortunately Houston Tx doesn’t have the to fight multiple county and surronding city governments in order to do the right thing. I think it also helps that Houston has very little in the way of zoning laws and city plannning. Their version of ad hoc works better than ours. I thank out status quo, good ol’ boy politicians for that.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
6:28 pm

Thank you both. NAF, we’ve rehearsed this, but honestly, isn’t Georgia’s structure of local governance–what are we up to now, 160 counties?–a congenital defect that works against sound regional planning? I’m thinking of the state Constitution, which I’ve read with interest and respect. When I read any state charter what strikes me first is that these documents tell why the state was constituted in the first place; what it’s for. It’s damned interesting to compare the surprisingly broad range of rationales for constituting the states. Georgia’s is heavy on education (as most of them are) but also on transportation and the apportionment of jurisdictional powers related thereto. Is it conceivable that voters here might approve amendments to the Constitution aimed at redressing (a) jurisdictional rivalries and duplications and (b) transportation authority? Obviously, such a ballot initiative might be floated in concert with a major transportation bond. @amazed, I’ll look again at Houston. Last time I looked it was amusing to see that their default street standards had not included sidewalks, as Houstonians are too libertarian to stomach the taking of private property that sidewalk-building can entail. But if they’ve managed to retrofit major infrastructure then God Bless them and I’ll be a devoted pupil.

Hillbilly D

August 19th, 2011
6:37 pm

Rafe

I live in the north part of the state and drive over it all the time. It’s fine the way it is, in my opinion.

If anybody drives down to 285 and back up, it’s because they don’t know their way around.

If all the people who gripe about traffic hadn’t moved here, there’d be no traffic to gripe about. If they did their homework, they’d know traffic was bad before they moved here. It’s their own fault.

So in other words, don’t try to solve Metro’s traffic problems by making things worse up here in north Georgia.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
7:31 pm

Hillbilly D,

Am not complaining especially. My move to here was necessary, but I’m happy to return to where my family has lived for many generations. As I grew up visiting relatives here I noticed things getting worse, transportation-wise. (I’m talking mid-Seventies on). So I’m am asking some of these folk how things might get better. Initially I asked whether improvement might even be possible. I can’t blame you for taking that as an outsider’s criticism of Georgia, but all I meant by that is that it’s so unwise and in any case near impossible to find trustworthy politicians in any state. I trust Tom Price, but right now the list stops with him. You may have noticed that Jim Wooten for years now has argued for state funding to establish local trauma centers in your neck of the woods, the better to treat roadway casualties. It’s not an us-and-them thing. You yourself must totally batten down when forced to drive past Atlanta. Doesn’t that at least embarrass you a little bit? I mean, it’s the State’s Capital, but what’s on display is not a happily buzzing slowdown but rather incompetent, unnecessary pandemonium unbecoming a great state.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
8:07 pm

You probably feel so expeditely about as much as you expected. Never expectant. Mini Ha-ha. What on Earth could we do to enliven, to make real the reality? I crap out on this.

Right Thinkers

August 19th, 2011
8:55 pm

We’ve got bigger problems than traffic, morons. So go soak your pointed little heads.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
10:10 pm

Up the 400 to Dalton, though, is the worst most dangerous and unplanned highway I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some Deusy’s. I have no idea what GDOT is thinking there. They must be fresh out of money, as they’re no fools.I have to go up there on business and it’s worse each time. Huge, deadly. Waiting for Dark to happen. Another irony is that the pathway initially was cut by General Thomas upon approach to Atlanta. Everybody killed there in essence belongs in one or the other cemetery. It’s unspeakably sad.

Glenn

August 19th, 2011
10:14 pm

…and yeah, you durty bastid. Got dat right. Except you don’t have the balls to turn the page…