Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The New Year begins today for the Georgia General Assembly as legislators return to the Capitol for another 40 working days. I began my new year with friends in Savannah, eating my peas and greens outside in beautiful Chamber of Commerce weather. After dinner we shared a few stories, and one from the group has some wisdom for those meeting under the Gold Dome.
A friend and his brother in law have a habit of playing practical jokes on each other. The brother in law, in retaliation for something my friend had done, placed an ad in Statesboro’s Craigslist which offered goats for sale for $40 and included a free chicken, with my friend’s cell number attached.
He placed the ad at 5:00am on a Saturday morning. Farmers, being the early risers that they are, began calling shortly after. The first was greeted as a wrong number, as was the second. He then began to ask questions with the third, but with each caller saying the ad was “on Craigslist”, it took a while to piece together the ad was placed in Statesboro. Placing the ad out of region attracted a good target audience, but also kept it hidden from the joke’s victim.
In between the frequent calls, he did some investigating and discovered $40 was quite a bargain on goats. A cursory review of current ads shows the going rate is around $80 to $100. Yet even with the advertised goats representing a good bargain, the motivation for most of the calls seemed to be the sweetener of a free chicken. My friend noted that he was quite impressed with the marketing effort his brother in law put into the joke, not only offering a good deal but adding the unique and extra hook of a free chicken to ensure multiple calls.
Back in Atlanta, one of the issues that will be addressed is how or if the regional T-SPLOSTS will be tweaked which are currently scheduled for a vote on the July general primary ballot. Voters across the state will be asked to add an additional 1% sales tax for transportation projects designated by 10 regional groups. The Atlanta region, containing roughly half the state’s population, remains quite skeptical of whether the measure will pass, while polls indicate support for the measures throughout most other parts of the state.
The irony in the current support for the measure is that the entire regional structure was designed to keep money generated in Atlanta at home to support much needed transportation infrastructure. The other nine regions were not the motivation. Yet other parts of the state have long equated transportation projects with economic development. Given the T-SPLOST’s construct of rewarding regions who pass one versus punishing those which do not, voters in the non-Atlanta regions also appear to understand the nature of a good deal, with our without a free chicken.
Voters in the Atlanta region, however, are not yet convinced. Fulton and DeKalb voters are having difficulty understanding how it is that they already pay 1% for transit in the form of a MARTA tax, and are being asked to pay 1% more so they can extend the system of which they built and paid for into reluctant suburban counties. The suburban counties are having difficulty acknowledging that they are part of the Atlanta region, with many also expressing a strong preference for road expansion over transit projects.
One of the problems with tweaking the current project list or funding mechanism within the Atlanta region is that adding a project that would appease the intown residents would be perceived as taking projects away from suburban voters. A finite revenue pool can only be split a certain number of ways, and the current division of Atlanta region T-SPLOST funds has many voters of opposite perspective believing each of their sides is getting the short straw in the distribution.
With both civic and government leaders claiming that the Atlanta T-SPLOST is a must pass initiative yet the measure facing significant resistance, much time will be spent behind the scenes at the Capitol trying to construct the proper tweaks that will better ensure support among affected voters. They need to identify some free chickens.
In government, nothing paid for by our tax dollars is free. There are, however, existing funds that could be redirected from current expenditures to bolster projects within the Atlanta region and make the T-SPLOST a better perceived value than the current proposal. Later this week, we’ll look at a couple of specific additional revenue streams which could be repurposed within the Atlanta region. It’s not exactly a free chicken, but is should at least help acknowledge the concerns of voters who feel taxed enough already.