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.