Three Questions About The Transportation Investment Act

May 3, 2012 9:29 am

by Jason · 19 comments

The following post was written by Brett Bittner, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, and vice president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association.

After serving on the Steering Committee for last summer’s “Get A Move On” Townhall, I was asked by the Civic League of Regional Atlanta to respond to three questions regarding the upcoming voter referendum on the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

Originally, my responses appeared on their blog and in an e-mail newsletter. I’ve included the questions and my responses below:

What’s good about the Transportation Investment Act?

When the Transportation Investment Act passed in 2010, it showed a genuine concern for the transportation issues here in Georgia, especially metropolitan Atlanta. Its passage also indicated a desire to address the failed attempts of the centrally-planned Georgia Department of Transportation attempts to improve the seemingly endless commutes for Atlantans. Legislators presented municipal and county officials an opportunity to work together to relieve congestion woes in a cooperative and efficient manner.

I appreciate the attempt, as well as the willingness to cede authority to bodies with stronger ties to the communities served in each region. Rather than attempt further planning at the state level, the TIA brings cities and counties with similar struggles and interests to the table.

What’s bad about the Transportation Investment Act?

While the above attempts are admirable, the reality of the product returned is filled with projects that lack the intentions of the legislators who voted to pass the bill two years ago. Several legislators who voted for the bill have reconsidered their support after seeing the resulting project list prepared by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable. While roundtable members winnowed a massive “wish list” down to what could fit into the estimated revenues generated, those members pushed the goals of decreased congestion and increased mobility aside in favor of the vague and unquantifiable concepts of “economic development,” “livability,” and “jobs” that proponents and “education efforts” alike utilize when discussing the referendum.

The project list completely lacks any item that directly correlates cost and use. The most efficient allocation of funds occurs when there is a direct correlation between these two factors. The voter referendum considered July 31st only authorizes spending for the construction and implementation of the projects contained within the list without a mechanism to “invest” in the operation and maintenance of the $6 billion worth of new transit project “wants” in a region that needs solutions, rather than what amounts to taxes disproportionately allocated when compared to real world use. Both sides agree that over half of the taxes to be collected fund mass transit projects. Historically, use of mass transit in our region does not exceed 5% of the population and is in a state of declining use, so what sense does it make to have the whole pay for a majority of transportation options that less than 1/20th of us utilize?

What’s the bottom line for (your organization)?

Both organizations I lead encourage a “No” vote on the July referendum, as the projects do not adequately address the mobility and congestion issues that the Atlanta region faces. Both the proponents and opponents point out that there is no “Plan B,” which implies that the regional roundtable gave voters an “or else” ultimatum, rather than seeking a solution that solves the transportation issues facing the region. The General Assembly gave a tremendous amount of control and authority to a regional body in hopes of regional solutions, but received only favors to special interest groups and a mentality of “What can I bring home to my constituents?” in return.

I rarely, if ever, oppose a proposal without offering alternatives. As such, I offer the following solutions:

  1. After voters reject the referendum, start from scratch to determine the actual needs of the region, by including stakeholders in the discussions, rather than a handful of officials no one elected to represent them in this effort.
  2. Focus the production of a project list that addresses the issues of mobility and congestion with a strong relationship between the two using the resources and their level of commitment to fund them.
  3. Rather than continue the monopoly over such decisions to an overburdened and ever-growing leviathan government, allow private companies to propose projects they can build, maintain, and operate efficiently and independently of bureaucrats and a regional government entity.

How is that for a starting point from which to begin “Plan B” when voters reject this tax increase?

Dave Bearse May 3, 2012 at 10:05 am

As regards what’s good about TIA. Yeah, the concern was so genuine for metro Atlanta’s transportation that TIA punished metro Atlanta local governments by returning only 15% for their use as they see fit, instead of the 25% everywhere else, and singled MARTA, which operates 10 times plus more transit than the rest of the state combined, for special restrictions.

And it’s not the regional roundtable that established the “or else”. It’s the spineless state leadership that crafted TIA.

And who knew knew that “[b]oth sides agree that over half of the taxes to be collected fund mass transit projects don’t understand that less than 50% for transit (which is what the transit spending works out to after nearly all of the 15% returned to localities is spent on highways) is over half.

Chris Huttman May 3, 2012 at 11:12 am

One thing you’ve got to give libertarians credit for (and many Republicans these days) is their blind willingness to chug along in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.

See for example: HOT lanes. I’m all in favor of the idea, as are many libertarians who are the father of the concept. In reality: voters, especially THEIR voters hate the idea. And yet their alternative plan basically boils down to more of the solutions that people hate.

I encourage libertarians to start rethinking their approach to government by keeping many of the metrics that businesses use but refocusing them off of a strict profit motive. We’re paying millions of dollars for HOT lanes so that some people can pay to get home faster. It’s also my understanding that while some people who used to carpool will lose out because they can’t afford to pay to be in the lane anymore, overall they can get more people into the lanes which means the net effect is more efficient use of the available lanes. So that means fewer overall transportation minutes, but the problem is transportation minutes in a car are still for the most part wasted minutes.

The metric you should be willing to pay for is turning minutes in traffic into actual productive minutes. Spend hundreds of millions of dollars on that – by incentivizing time shifting, telework, etc. I know there is a large chorus of mass transit deniers on here, but mass transit particularly rail provides a reliable benchmark for commute times and because you’re not wasting your time driving a car the minutes are more valuable.

Is that the best solution? I have no idea. But if you’re going to let private actors propose solutions, you should encourage more options for companies to profit from other than just get people to pay us a toll.

Chris Huttman May 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

In defense of some people – ideas like the new interchanges that shift people to the left side of the road to improve traffic flow are good examples of non-toll ideas that we should be willing to pay the private sector to come up with. But at the same time if some DOT scientist comes up with it first, that doesn’t mean it should lose out to some toll-profit based scheme instead.

The Last Democrat in Georgia May 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

“See for example: HOT lanes. I’m all in favor of the idea, as are many libertarians who are the father of the concept. In reality: voters, especially THEIR voters hate the idea. And yet their alternative plan basically boils down to more of the solutions that people hate.”

“HATE” is a pretty strong word….but not anywhere near strong enough….

The Last Democrat in Georgia May 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Die HOT Lanes, die HOT Lanes, DIE!!!!!!!!!

Calypso May 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm

You are not enamored of the HOT lanes?

The Last Democrat in Georgia May 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm

If by enamored, you mean being out for the blood of anyone and everyone who was behind the decision to put HOT lanes on I-85 by taking away the old HOV-2 lanes, then sure, I’m completely enamored with them.

Calypso May 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm

See, I knew you liked them.

The Last Democrat in Georgia May 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Yeah, I guess that I do “like” them…with a passion….

Rambler1414 May 3, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Would Mr. Bittner be leading the charge to pass TIA if it were 100% roads and 0% transit?
My guess? No.

“After voters reject the referendum, start from scratch to determine the actual needs of the region, by including stakeholders in the discussions, rather than a handful of officials no one elected to represent them in this effort.”

This statement is very misleading. Every single one of the officials responsible for the Project List were elected to their positions by a City/County.

PoliticalRobert May 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Mr. Bittner’s so-called Plan B is really no plan at all.

Part 1 of his alternative has already occurred. The development of the project list included input from over 200,00 metro Atlanta residents (archived at http://bit.ly/qE79MP), and the final decision was made entirely by a group of 21 local ELECTED officials (http://bit.ly/IZuxmJ).

Part 2 is also repetitive of work already completed. The TIA is very clear on the criteria for project selection and actually lists examples of specific public benefits that projects should provide (including, but not limited to, “congestion mitigation, increased lane capacity, public safety, and economic development”).

Part 3 is a notion that is, to the best of my knowledge, entirely outside the scope of the TIA. Moreover, it’s anti-government fantasy claptrap that ignores political and economic realities. Privatized roads are toll roads, and the idea that they should be developed and operated without being part of a regional transportation plan is just plain irresponsible.

Mr. Bittner neglects to mention that his Plan B scenario would likely include tax increases and/or draconian spending cuts at the local level of government in order to offset a tripling of the required local funding match for GDOT funds. Section 6 of the TIA (now O.C.G.A. Sec. 48-8-244(d)) establishes what happens if voters reject the tax: “[T]he local governments in such special district shall be required to provide a 30 percent match for any local maintenance and improvement grants by the Department of Transportation for transportation projects and programs for at least 24 months and until such time as a special district sales and use tax is approved.”

Metro Atlanta’s traffic problem is killing our region’s economic competitiveness. Too much time and too much money is wasted in traffic each day. Untying our traffic knot will lead to more jobs and a better quality of life. That’s why I’m voting YES on the Regional Transportation Referendum on July 31.

debbie0040 May 4, 2012 at 5:29 am

52% of the Metro project list goes to mass transit projects. MARTA is facing an almost 3 billion short-fall for maintenance in the upcoming years.

How are the maintenance costs for T-SPLOST projects going to be paid for?

Rambler1414 May 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

According to the Sierra Club, your facts are incorrect.

“Claims by pro-transit supporters that 52 percent of revenues would go to transit do not account for the 15 percent local set-aside, which is expected to go primarily to roads; the final total for transit would be closer to 40 percent.”

SallyForth May 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm

…..and all this time I thought a TIA was a mini-stroke…..

The Last Democrat in Georgia May 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm

You were right.

analogkid May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm

There’s a lot about this piece that frustrates me, but this takes the cake:

While the above attempts are admirable, the reality of the product returned is filled with projects that lack the intentions of the legislators who voted to pass the bill two years ago. Several legislators who voted for the bill have reconsidered their support after seeing the resulting project list prepared by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable.

So let me get this straight: The very people who abdicated their responsibility to provide adequate transportation planning and funding are now disappointed that the projects chosen by the people they abdicated their responsibility to “lack their intentions”? Really???

I’m a very likely No vote on the T-SPLOST myself, but that argument is galling.

Medic8310 May 4, 2012 at 12:13 am

This post shows the fundamental difference between Metro Atlanta and rural GA transportation problems. The Metro area wants to focus on congestion, we rural areas just want to fix bridges that are in need of repair, resurface many roads that we travel daily to and from work, and widen other roads so that we can attract industry and jobs to our area. WE NEED this to pass down here or else we cannot afford basic transportation rehab costs.

debbie0040 May 4, 2012 at 5:27 am
Medic8310 May 4, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Nolen Cox is played out. He spends all of his time sitting around conjuring up conspiracy theories on how the government will try to steal his money from him next. He enjoys taking what is written and twisting it to fit his message. He is so caught up on the word “redistributed” that he can’t even sleep at night. Has he ever served as an elected official or does he just sit back and judge those who volunteer to serve? Does he not understand that the elected officials on those roundtables were the elected officials who represent their respective cities/counties? How then does he say they were not elected representatives from the region?

This tax will help enhance transportation in south GA. Much of the tax money spent on these projects will, in turn, be spent in the areas that these projects will be worked on. The workers will live, sleep, and eat in these areas while the project is ongoing.

It is sickening to read the “article” referenced in the facebook link above. The ramblings make no sense to someone who knows how government works. To the average reader, he may sound very knowledgeable on the subject, but to others who know the lingo, it is simply idiotic rambling. Simple word play to get his message across.

When you’re against EVERYTHING that elected officials do, you begin to lose credibility. That’s what is starting to happen to Nolen and the TEA Party.

The bottom line is, that this will be voted on BY THE VOTERS. If a majority vote for it, the rest will have to live with it. Just like every other election. IT IS THE MOST DEMOCRATIC WAY OF IMPOSING A TAX!!! It’s not being forced on us by any government. We are being given the option by our elected officials.

Comments on this entry are closed.