No Confidence in the T-SPLOST

Here’s an advance copy of my column this week on the T-SPLOST. I’ve been talking about it on the radio in Atlanta and I really think it is worth emphasizing that I’m not automatically opposed to the T-SPLOST. But I just don’t think we should approve it until our elected officials have made a concerted effort to clean up the ongoing problems within the Department of Transportation and the state’s transportation bureaucracy.The transportation special purpose local option sales tax, which we all call the T-SPLOST, has a lot of good projects in it. I am excited to see funding for an extension of the Middle Georgia Regional Airport’s runway. I cannot state enough the importance of such an extension. It really will create jobs.

I have written two columns in the past several months on the need to expand Bass Road. That is in the T-SPLOST too. Several other projects I favor are in there too. So I better explain why I oppose the T-SPLOST.

First, you should understand that I do not oppose the T-SPLOST in principle. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) released a report earlier this week that clearly explains why other methods of funding are preferable. But the T-SPLOST was the product of compromise by a bunch of part time legislators who would rather build a new Falcons Stadium for a billion dollars and fund a Go Fish program while punting tough questions like infrastructure and trauma care to the citizenry.

Second, you should know there are programs in the T-SPLOST I fully support and think would create jobs.

But I oppose the T-SPLOST because I do not think Georgia has its act together within its transportation bureaucracy and planning. I think if we pass this T-SPLOST with its ten years of funding we will find ourselves perpetually renewing it always trying to make up missing funds and fix faulty projects.

I believe the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is an unrepentant cesspool of greed and corruption used by lawmakers and other politicians to buy friends and win influence. Every few years a new report comes out that GDOT has underfunded projects, unaccounted for demands for money, and is otherwise in disarray.

The few times our politicians have sought to clean up the cesspool they have sent in reformers who have been defeated, smeared, and tossed out with their reputation in tatters only to be replaced by good old boys who have perpetuated the system.

If we approve the T-SPLOST, we are agreeing to subsidize greed, graft, corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse within our transportation bureaucracy in perpetuity. We all need to be clear on that. The very same bureaucracy and outside organizations who for years have bumped up traffic numbers on roads to justify expansions where there is little justification will be subsidized by taxpayers in ongoing boondoggles hailed by politicians as job creating projects of local interest.

The political elites, most media outlets in the state, and the philanthropic left and right in the state are all pooling resources to pass the T-SPLOST. They will not tell you the cold, plain truth about what will happen because they have long ago accepted dysfunction as the cost of doing business.

I think the taxpayers of the state should think twice before, in effect, endowing a permanent system of waste, fraud, and abuse without ever forcing our legislators to really attempt to clean up GDOT and reform the insanity of our highway system.

The GPPF report makes clear, inside and outside of the metro Atlanta area, there are projects worth funding, but we have an infrastructure system in our state that should first be fixed to work together, not against each other, and now divided into regional problems.

Fix the transportation bureaucracy and I will gladly support the T-SPLOST as a necessary compromise. But until then, I vote no confidence.

32 comments

  1. benevolus says:

    I don’t understand how the two things are related. If we need to fix the transportation bureaucracy, we can do that with TSPLOST in place just as well as without it in place. You don’t forfeit the whole season just because you are in a slump.

  2. Rambler1414 says:

    So we’re just supposed to HOPE that the same part-time legislators who would rather build a new Falcons Stadium for a billion dollars and fund a Go Fish program while punting tough questions like infrastructure and trauma care to the citizenry,

    will magically fix GDOT in time for us to vote on another project list in 2 years?

    “The few times our politicians have sought to clean up the cesspool they have sent in reformers”

    Reformers? Like who?
    Gena Evans?

  3. ckingtruth says:

    I agree with Erick 100%. Between the Peach Pass lanes; driving in the emergency lanes and continuation of GA 400 tolls, I’m not inclined to support this.

  4. Scott65 says:

    I’m putting on my pragmatic hat and make some observations. First, the non-road projects are all run trough GRTA which is appointed by the Governor. I personally think that this subjects them to an undue amount of political pressure that might not be in the public’s best interest. Secondly, GDOT might be a cesspool…but it is micromanaged by another cesspool the State Legislature. I cringe every time they put someone in there (GDOT) that has no transportation and planning experience, so I agree with Eric on the need to clean it up. What I would like to know is the detailed plan to achieve this. Getting these people who run the state to give up power is not going to happen anytime soon, hell we cant even get ethics legislation to see the light of day. So, we give up on any kind of transportation solutions indefinitely? Lets not forget that the reason we are in this mess is because the legislature has punted this for so many years eventually shirking their responsibility and pawning it off to the voters so they dont have to make hard choices or violate ill thought out pledges.
    We needed many of these projects years ago. Wouldn’t a better solution be to pass the TIA and hold these officials feet to the fire and keep them accountable on every step of the process? That seems a heck of a lot more doable in the short term…and trust me this needs some short term attention or the long term wont be pretty

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      All very good points, though the problem with passing the TIA is that these same officials are highly skilled at not being held accountable to voters and taxpayers.

      If many of the vaguely-defined and incomplete project descriptions are any indication, these same officials have also designed this T-SPLOST in a way so as to also not be held accountable for what happens to the money allocated from this referendum to the projects that they are “responsible” for managing.

    • GTKay says:

      Scott, the current leadership at GDOT is made up of transportation engineers with plenty of planning experience. And the bill calls for a citizen review panel that will give periodic reports to the general assembly and the public regarding the projects’ implementation and costs.

      • Calypso says:

        Todd Long is a great guy. Glad he’s getting the recognition and responsibilities which he deserves.

  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “If we approve the T-SPLOST, we are agreeing to subsidize greed, graft, corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse within our transportation bureaucracy in perpetuity. We all need to be clear on that.”

    Erick, you couldn’t have said it any better as I agree that it is a particularly bad idea to make billions of dollars in new public money available to a transportation bureaucracy that has a notorious reputation for extreme mismanagement of the funds that they’re already “responsible” for.

  6. Charlie says:

    Take Erick’s problems with the lack of faith in the current “leadership” on this issue and add to it Kyle Wingfield’s column questioning whether Atlanta’s congestion is actually costing us that much at all. Wingfield has the temerity to use actual data that wasn’t produced from a whitewash report from those supporting the bill.

    http://blogs.ajc.com/kyle-wingfield/2012/05/24/t-splost-is-traffic-really-a-problem-in-atlanta/

    Read it. All of it.

    Then read Erick’s column again.

    Then ask yourself who is being objective here? Hint: It’s not those asking us to raise our own taxes because they don’t have the temerity to do it themselves.

    • Rambler1414 says:

      “So, maybe the questions we ought to ask ourselves are not how much to spend, and where, but whether we can afford to subsidize people’s choices to live far from work.”

      Great point.

      But as soon as you talking about higher densities and live-work-play communities, the Tea Party will accuse you of social engineering and Agenda 21 conspiracies.

      People that live on a cul-de-sac should be prohibited from complaining about traffic. YOU’RE THE PROBLEM!

      • CobbGOPer says:

        So in other words, Rambler, people shouldn’t be allowed to live anywhere except high-density apartment buildings less than two miles from their place of employment?

        • I don’t think that’s it at all. People are free to live wherever they choose. But if you choose to live 30 miles from where you work, at some point you have to accept responsibility for your decisions… not ask everyone else to help make your commute shorter when you could have chosen a different job or a different residence.

          • benevolus says:

            It’s not to make people’s commutes easier to absolve them of responsibility for their decisions, it’s to help companies be willing to be here, and to make all our lives a little better. If you want to be personally responsible for only your own activities, then you shoul go live in the wilderness and let the rest of us who want to live in a community work out how we want to organize that.

            • “If you want to be personally responsible for only your own activities, then you shoul go live in the wilderness and let the rest of us who want to live in a community work out how we want to organize that.”

              You can live in a community and work out those things without forcing others around you to do things they may not want to do. Organize without the use of force (government).

            • On the other hand, if you want more transit, higher taxes, etc., then perhaps you should go live somewhere that has it already instead of trying to force it on people who may have chosen to live in an area without it. 🙂

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                Metro Atlanta has transit (and roads, too).

                Granted, Metro Atlanta doesn’t have the best transit (it’s so bad that people often think that it doesn’t even exist), but it does have transit.

                No, really, it does, I’m not joking.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            That is also true. If someone chooses to live 30 miles away from where they work, they have to deal with the fact that there is going to be very heavy traffic on their commutes to and from work.

            But on the other hand, not all six million metro Atlantans can live virtually next door or in very close proximity to where they work, especially near major employment centers at the urban core.

            If all six million metro Atlantans did try (or were forced) to live very close to where they work, that would make us something like New York…where super-high population density in the urban has pushed the cost-of-living up through the roof which has had the effect of forcing many workers to find affordable housing and live far away from their jobs in the urban core often commuting distances of up to 100 miles each way to and from their place of employment every workday.

            (Ever heard of the term “Drive-’til-you-qualify” where people will drive or ride the train out from the city until they find an exit off the freeway or a train station around where they can afford to buy a house in major urban centers like auto-dominated Los Angeles and transit-heavy New York?).

            Georgia is now a highly-populated state (one of the ten most-populated states in the union) with a highly-populated major metro area in Atlanta that is now one of the top 10 most populated metro areas in the nation.

            Despite the recent explosive population growth in which the population of the metro area has doubled in the last two decades, a clearly inadequate arterial road network that is one of the worst of any very large metro area on the continent and an increasingly inadequate freeway system that was last expanded over 20 years ago when the metro population was roughly only half of what it is today, Atlanta is the largest metro area east of the Mississippi River without commuter rail service.

            Very large cities and metros have people commuting over long distances to and from work everyday, that’s just a fact of life.

            Though I don’t think that this currently-proposed T-SPLOST referendum is the way do it, maybe it’s time that all parties involved grow up and accept the fact that Atlanta is a very large major metro area that needs to (wisely and thoughfully) invest in its long-neglected (and underappreciated) multimodal transportation network.

        • Rambler1414 says:

          I’m not telling anyone where they should be allowed to live.

          I’m asking you to refrain from taking money out of my pocket because you chose to live in a gated subdivision on an acre lot in Ball Ground and you work in Midtown.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            If the Georgia Legislature had half-a-brain on transportation matters, they wouldn’t have to take money out of your pocket because people choose to live in places like Ball Ground while working in job centers like Midtown. It’s a little thing called “user fees” where users pay and non-users don’t.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                It’s Libertarian-type acts that will more than likely gets us out of the position of potentially steep economic decline that this region suddenly finds itself in after years of explosive growth with no real planning or meaningful management of the transportation or water resources needed to sustain that growth and prosperity.

                I mean we can take the so-called “conservative” position and sit and do nothing while this region becomes Detroit South or we can take the “liberal” position and (attempt to) raise everyone’s taxes through the roof like our more socialist-leaning neighbors in the Northeastern states, Illinois and California or we can stop waiting for a ton of somebody else’s money to fall out of the sky into our laps, take a more Libertarian position and actually finally start getting things done once and for all.

                • As a Libertarian, I totally agree with you. I was just noting that it’s not exactly something that would go over well with the Democratic party. 🙂

                  • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                    Of course not, their position is to raise taxes through the roof, especially the taxes of the so-called “rich” while still not having “enough” money for a not-big-enough government to function (see California with their $16 billion budget shortfalls or Illinois who raised their already-high corporate taxes by 64% last year).

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        People live in cul-de-sacs in transit-heavy metro areas (like Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington DC, etc), too.

        It’s just that those metro areas have state governments that do a slightly better job of attempting to manage traffic by wisely investing in multimodal alternatives (like commuter rail and commuter bus, where many of those people that live in those far-flung suburban and exurban cul-de-sacs have the choice of driving to a nearby rail transit station catch a train to work instead of only having the option of driving to work via severely rush hour-congested freeways).

  7. benevolus says:

    It may be “objective” in that it uses numbers, but if you are going to ask me to believe that for someone who spends 31 minutes to get to work now, they would only be able to get to work in 28 minutes with NO congestion at all, then no, I don’t believe that.
    Those numbers must be averages, and a lot of people don’t encounter much congestion (like me). That would make it seem like the advantage would be minimal, but not every road gets attention in TSPLOST- only the ones with the problems.

    Wingfield mentions the 400 corridor- it would be interesting to see what the numbers would be for that road by itself, and the connector by itself.

  8. saltycracker says:

    Don’t think those living 30 miles out are the ones crying for $2.50 transportation to get into the city. They seem to be the ones willing to pay a fair share of the cost of the most efficient method they use to get to their workplace, whereever it is.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Exactly. Whenever MARTA proposes to raise fares even as much as a quarter, advocates for the homeless and those too poor to consider other options come from out of the woodwork to protest like it’s the end of their world and all over $2.50 fares!

      Meanwhile commuter rail service costs as much as $25.00 one-way and heavy service costs as much as $11.00 one-way in some major cities when applied on a zone-based or distance-based fare-pricing method…and that’s with substantial additional financial support from those systems’ respective state governments.

  9. John Konop says:

    ……….I do not think Georgia has its act together within its transportation bureaucracy and planning………..

    Erick you make some very valid points about this issue. Yet we now have the GOP in control of all parts of the government. And you once argued this would be the solution for Georgia to run more efficiently. Knowing this, why would you think we would get a plan any better than the current one? And do you think, doing nothing at all, is better options than nothing and or getting another plan with same BS?

    My view no matter what we do, it will have BS in the plan. And the more one party controls everything BS increases with less checks and balances. And if it comes down to fixing the BS, we might as well just say we are not doing anything.

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