T-SPLOST Regions And Local Control

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The political myth that there are two Georgias is the old paradigm.  As voters prepare to vote on Regional T-SPLOST referendums between now and July 31st, there are twelve Georgias.  Georgians will decide in twelve separate groups if upgrading local transportation infrastructures are worth an extra 1% tariff on everything they purchase – including groceries.  That’s a 16% increase in sales taxes paid for those who live in counties with a 6% sale tax rate currently.

The construct of the twelve Georgias does have its roots in the two Georgias history, however.  The design was essentially a way to generate and keep transportation dollars in the Atlanta region.  Atlanta generates significantly more sales taxes than any other region.  It also has the greatest amount of congestion, and is cursed with the highest costs of any region to complete a major transportation upgrade.

Yet the Atlanta region isn’t fighting with a united front on T-SPLOST.  Polls indicate that inner city residents – citizens of Fulton and DeKalb who already pay a 1% tax to fund MARTA – are those most likely to support the tax.  The farther from the urban core of the region, the more likely a voter is to be against T-SPLOST. 

The battle lines are essentially drawn between the region’s political and business leaders against mostly suburban grass roots organizations.  And the battle itself has made many voters tune out, as each side trades dubious statistics, hysterical claims, and other “facts” cherry picked to make their argument whole.  In this debate, it’s quite easy to be disgusted with everyone involved.

As quite a few of these columns have been dedicated to the problems with T-SPLOST and the misplaced priorities of State and regional leaders, this one will instead focus on one key issue that will have to be resolved within the attitude of the opposition.  Whether T-SPLOST passes or there has to be a “Plan B”, the concept of regionalism in transportation is one that will have to be incorporated into Georgia’s planning model, specifically within the Atlanta region.

Opposition leaders are using the argument of “local control” as a reason to oppose T-SPLOST.  This is a charge that is easy to refute. 

The principle of local control is one that states decisions should be made at the lowest level of government possible to make an effective decision.  It does not state that county or municipal governments should make every decision.  If it did, I can only imagine what most suburban Atlantans would think about residents of Berkeley California vetoing most of our country’s national defense policies.

We make defense policy at a national level not because we as individuals shouldn’t have a say about it in smaller groups, but for it to be cohesive and effective (or at least have a chance of being so), it must be one as one national government, acting on behalf of all citizens.  Conversely, most law enforcement, fire protection, and education decisions are easily handled at a local level.  There is no need for national standards and the related bureaucracy for fire protection.  It can be handled by cities and counties.

Transportation planning and policy allows the movement of people between communities.  It is not exclusively a “local” decision.  Cobb and Fulton counties had decades of fighting over a bridge on Johnsons Ferry Road crossing the Chattahoochee.  Cobb County built 6 lanes leading up to the river, but Fulton refused to expand the road on their side of the river for years.  Let’s just say it was an inefficient route for a commute, but there were few alternatives for those in the area.

The current debate has become even more shrill over this issue from T-SPLOST opponents.  Residents of Gwinnett and Cherokee are among the loudest wanting to know why they need to pay for a beltline project that they will never use in the inner city.  Totally lost on these residents is that the recent addition of HOT lanes in Gwinnett created a firestorm from locals who could not get out of Gwinnett and down to Atlanta – who have paid an extra penny for infrastructure to handle incoming commuters for 40 years. 

Atlanta residents can equally likely ask whey their motor fuel dollars went to fund the recent improvements to the I-85/GA-316 interchange that cost over $100 Million dollars.  It remains the most expensive project every completed by the Georgia DOT.  They could ask the same about the proposed $1 Billion toll road project planned for I-75 and I-575 to bring residents of Cobb and Cherokee into downtown and midtown even faster – again to a city that pays for MARTA, is paying $3 Billion for sewer infrastructure upgrades, and provides indigent care at Grady Hospital for an entire region on the backs of Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers.

Many of the arguments from Atlanta suburbanites are little more than that of the selfish and the spoiled.  Their low tax lifestyle exists because of their proximity to an inner core that taxes its residents and visitors at a higher rate to build the infrastructure critical to the entire regions’ needs. 

The suburban mindset is that residents in Atlanta and DeKalb county need to pay an additional one penny so that more roads can be built in the outlying counties.  The inner core has been paying extra for infrastructure for four decades.  If these residents have determined that a beltline is where they want their extra money to go, that’s a fair decision.  Pretending that Gwinnet’s portion of the sales tax generated is what is paying for the Atlanta beltline is either fantasy or disingenuous.

Atlanta no longer has the ease of drawing employers and residents to the area based on cheap land and easy commutes.  With nearly 5 million in the metro area, transportation planning cannot be done solely at the county level for major projects.  We, throughout the entire state, will have to accept the fact that TSPLOST or no TSPLOST, there will have to be grand regional projects to keep people moving.

Atlanta has grown up.  It’s time our debate on traffic, transit, and regional governance does too.

83 comments

  1. GTKay says:

    It is really amazing that the all of the county commission chairs and one mayor from each county plus Kasim Reed came together and hashed out a project list and voted unanimously to approve it. I’m sure not everyone got what they wanted -they had to cull down from a much larger list- but they each must have been satisfied that the list would benefit their counties plus the region as a whole. The 10 counties in our region are so diverse. Counties and cities officials all over the region submitted the projects, and elected officials worked together to come up with the final list knowing that it would need to appeal to voters to get passed. That’s why I don’t agree with the argument that it is taxation without representation. Voters need to look at the list and see what would be built/improved in your stomping grounds, and then in the region as a whole, and then vote yes or no based on that.

    My stomping grounds are huge. I regularly drive in Gwinnett and Dekalb, occasionally go downtown, take my kids to the doctor in Forsyth, get my hair cut in Hall, and plan to go visit a friend in Cobb soon. I don’t think I’m alone.

  2. John Konop says:

    Well said! This is why we need a real plan ASAP!

    …………Atlanta no longer has the ease of drawing employers and residents to the area based on cheap land and easy commutes. With nearly 5 million in the metro area, transportation planning cannot be done solely at the county level for major projects. We, throughout the entire state, will have to accept the fact that TSPLOST or no TSPLOST, there will have to be grand regional projects to keep people moving.

    Atlanta has grown up. It’s time our debate on traffic, transit, and regional governance does too………..

    • seekingtounderstand says:

      John: Most people I know who are voting no on TSPLOST want traffic improvements and believe in what your saying. Its about stopping political driven corruption of taxpayers dollars. Focus on better controls and accountability. TSPLOST has none.

      • John Konop says:

        Seek,

        As you know I have made it clear that I understand the issues with the bill. We both agree we need updated infrastructure. If the bill fails, do you think we can do planning on a local level? How do we pay for the needed infrastructure?

      • GTKay says:

        There is a schedule in place by which the projects will be built as the money comes in, and there is a citizen review panel that will give a yearly report as to the status of the implementation. I think that provides accountability and transparency.

        • seekingtounderstand says:

          GTKay: Have you lived in GA long? Take every real estate deal tied to any past DOT Chariman or Board members or family and friends and post it on a map of GA.
          Then explain how that is accountability and transparency with tax payers funds.

          • GTKay says:

            Oh, I’m not denying there are GDOT board members who have worked the system, though not all of them. But that really has nothing to do with the TIA. The projects have already been selected. They were submitted by county and city officials and selected and voted on by county commissioners and mayors on the roundtables. Board members have not been involved in the selection and now the planning division is under the governor. I think the fact that this list has been scrutinized as much as it has is a good thing, and I’m very sure it will continue if the tax passes.

  3. seekingtounderstand says:

    Selfish and Spoiled because we want to make sure our dollars are spent responsibly?
    This has been an un-fair fight from the start and if all of you want to pile on and demean the little guy who is barely making it as it is enjoy your day!
    Its a regressive tax that hurts those who can least afford it. If its so great put a special tax on all Chamber of Commerce members to pay for it. Raise their dues.

  4. debbie0040 says:

    . “The 10 counties in our region are so diverse. ” Exactly and that is why the way the regions are set up is wrong. Counties that have similar transportation needs should be in a region. A regional taxing authority is UN-Constitutional. The Georgia Constitution should be amended to allow county commissions to decide which counties they want to go in partnership with for transportation projects.

    Gwinnett’s tax dollars are put in a regional pot and yes part of those tax dollars do go to projects in Atlanta. Gwinnett will not be getting all of their tax dollars back in the county. Based on population, Atlanta is receiving T-SPLOST funding that is 268 % of their population. Other counties receive less than their population. Yes there are other taxes that are re-distributed but we have a right to say no to another tax. Elected officials should prove they are responsible with the tax dollars they have now before they ask for more. They have not done that. State officials prefer to spend 20 million dollars for programs like Go Fish. The City of Atlanta has been in the news about wasteful spending in regard to TADs and we are expected to just ignore that and the wasteful spending of elected officials and give them more. We are expected to just look at a few projects that actually good projects and ignore the over 4 billion dollars worth of projects that are wasteful spending.

    The same Republicans that criticized the Obama Administration and national Democrats for wanting to raise taxes to create jobs are now saying in regard to T-SPLOST, that raising taxes does create jobs and spending money will help the economy recover. These so-called Republicans would be yelling if the Democrats propose raising taxes, yet they think it is ok if it is a tax they like. These Republican elected officials need to stop being hypocrites in regard to tax increases.

    Attended a press conference at the Georgia Capitol this morning. Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown and I spoke. Sen. Vincent Fort, Georgia NAACP, Sierra Club and the AFL- CIO came out strong against T-SPLOST and are going door to door in Fulton and DeKalb urging voters to vote against T-SPLOST.

    Elected officials want voters to raise taxes on everyday items, but somehow have hundreds of millions of dollars to help build a new stadium for the Falcons. The 300 million dollars collected from the hotel/motel tax should go to help fund transportation needs in Atlanta.

    Supporters of T-SPLOST talk about a citizens oversight panel for T-SPLOST. Let’s see the same elected officials that appoint the Georgia 400 Toll Authority get to appoint this citizen panel. Why do I not take comfort in that?

    Plan B is to make sure this massive tax increase fails and have citizen representatives from different groups to come to the table and discuss plans we can agree on..

    The T-SPLOST supporters remind me of used car salesmen that are trying to pawn off a lemon on un-suspecting buyers by their deceptive advertising techniques.
    They have deliberately kept their donor list secret by filing for a local county ballot committee instead of state-wide ballot committee. It seems since the Constitution does not allow regional committees, ethics reporting does not even have an option for regional ballot committees. The chamber encourages employers to engage in employee intimidation by encouraging their employees to vote for T-SPLOST. The chamber has also issued veiled threats against elected officials that don’t support T-SPLOST.

    • Big Tuna says:

      Debbie, are you a John Kerry fan? Do you take two positions on everything? You have written quite a lot of sound a fury here, but I can’t get by your first paragraph without my brain aching.

      “Counties that have similar transportation needs should be in a region.” So you are for a regional approach.

      “A regional taxing authority is UN-Constitutional.” Now you are against a regional approach.

      “The Georgia Constitution should be amended to allow county commissions to decide which counties they want to go in partnership with for transportation projects.” Now you are for the regional approach again. All this in consecutive sentences.

      So let me get this straight, you are for a regional approach except we can’t do but if we could you would be for it? I suppose you would want some sort of hypothetical accountability thrown in to boot, perhaps like:

      The tax sunsets?
      The projects are selected via public debate?
      The projects are specified?
      The money is dedicated?
      The money is put in a trust fund and can only be disbursed upon verified project completion?
      There are regular audits?
      Projects are bid competitively?
      The DOT does not pick the projects?
      The legislature does not pick the projects?
      Any discrepancy in budget and/or timeline must be addressed in writing posted publicly by the DOT Commissioner?

      Where in the world would you ever find strict accountability measures like this? Oh yeah, in TSPLOST.

      • Jackster says:

        Tuna – She’s saying it’s unconstitutional currently – as in the question before the people is “hey – do you want to be taxed regionally”? She’s pointing out that this level of taxation should be put in place prior to passing a taxing measure, I think.

        And to your accountability points
        Tax Sunset – then why are there projects which will not bear fruit as is, without more funding (like a study, economic development, etc.)

        Public Debate – I doubt you can find anyone who really understands these projects, who isn’t an expert. The debate should have been framed as, “This is what is currently on the docket” – this is extra. What happened is they were all lumped together, which is quite confusing.

        Money is Dedicated – if it goes to the DOT, it’s not dedicated, is it? I seem to remember the gov diverting funds from the DOT to pay for healthcare. Also, even if these funds are “dedicated”, there is a federal and state component outside of the tax, which is not guaranteed, nor dedicated. Am I wrong there?

        Your other points are valid, though – and I’m glad there are controls in there, but I find myself going to back to that general trust issue, where if the law or rules don’t work in someone’s favor, they’re changed, or nuanced, etc.

        • Big Tuna says:

          Jackster, you are right about what debbie is suggesting. I was merely pointing out that she was for it, against it, for it again. My hunch is that if she and a lot of other Tea Partiers would be honest with themselves, there is a lot to like about this process. I suspect they are all mad about someone else’s projects and little else.

          I am glad you raised some of the questions you did. Let me address:

          Tax Sunsets – I am not sure what to tell you except that the tax will be collected for ten years maximum. The selection process empowered the local cities and counties to get projects on the list that were important to their local constituencies. If that means they selected some that were “phase 1” of a larger process, well, that was the process of local control that the legislature all patted themselves on the back for back when they passed HB 277. I am not going to begrudge a local communities for their priorities, especially when I may not live there. I look at it as it is their piece of the pie and that is what they want to do with it.

          Public Debate – The law required that the project lists in each region be put together with public input. Once the draft lists were put together, there were further public debates regarding the project lists before they were formally approved. The meetings were announced and the general public had every opportunity to come out and participate. You can look at all the meeting minutes, schedules, listen to audio playback of meetings all at atlantaregionalroundtable.com. If you wanted transparency throughout the process, you had every opportunity to engage.

          Money is Dedicated – This is the whole trust in government part that I get. Here is the deal. The money that is collected will be parked in a trust fund at the Georgia State Finance and Investment Commission. For every region that passes TSPLOST, a trust fund will be set up for that region at GSFIC. One region’s money cannot be commingled with another or any other monies of the state. The only time money gets disbursed out of a trust fund is when GDOT or GRTA provides verification to GSFIC that a project is complete or a specific element of a project is complete.

          • Jackster says:

            PUBLIC DEBATE – Thanks for acknowledging that I HAD an opportunity to engage. As I am NOT an elected official, an engineering firm, nor do I have the resources to conduct a study for how well my particular piece of property would benefit the region, this level of participation is not exactly influential. But thank you for the patronizing comment – really makes me feel like what I might have said at those meetings would have changed the funding mechanism.

            I should note that the Pro T-splost lobby HAD an opportunity to increase the level of input from voters, but chose not to… probably because there was already a significant investment in the current path.

            The pro t-splost lobby also HAD an opportunity to sell this tax transparently, but alas, they chose to go the slick professional political ad route.

            I quite honestly have reviewed the list, found a few projects I like, and several which seem to be necessary, but i have no way to qualify it. Plan 2040 is new to me – it seems that this was premeditated a long time before this particular vote was planned.

            But here we are, debating in public. If the list is soooo good, then why isn’t MAVEN, the chamber, and all the localities running ads on tv touting individual projects and how awesome they are? To me, that would be the way to sell a tax – hey look – this project is awesome… not “buzzword buzzword cool graphic buzzword”

            Sunsets of Taxes – The idea here is that, while sure, technically speaking, this TSPLOST ends after 10 years, these things have a tendency to keep on rolling along… like an incumbent getting re-elected. Most folks would rather not start a new revenue stream in the first place. I’m sure even you have seen this pattern.

            And lastly, she was saying it’s unconstitutional – which you’ve admitted, but not that she’s against thinking regionally on principal. (I’ll let her state her opinions on that topic on her own.) She’s saying it’s not legal (currently) to tax regionally… as in you’re actually making a law and passing a tax if you do this. Your spin on this topic discounts the merits of the arguments, and is quite disingenuous. You can take that sort of thing to a large billboard on 85 if you like.

          • debbie0040 says:

            Trust funds can be diverted to other uses. The ballot quest says improved for region and state. Don’t tell me the state won’t get any of the funds.

            We don’t like:

            1. The process that includes the way regions are set up
            2. The project list
            3. That we are expected to just trust our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely when they don’t have a good track record doing that.
            4. Don’t like the fact elected officials find hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new stadium for the Falcons but can’t find money to fund transportation improvements.
            5. Projects that are fiscally irresponsible and only particially completed.
            6. Tax-payers will be asked to renew this tax every ten years
            7. No money in it for maintence for expanded mass transit project after the ten years. We don’t believe in transit fairies that will just wave their magic wand and maintenance will be provided.
            8. The fact some Republican elected officials oppose raising taxes in recession when the Democrats mention it but support raising taxes and claim the tax will create jobs and stimulate the economy when it is a tax they support.
            I could go on and on..

            • Big Tuna says:

              Reading is hard, but let’s give it a try. Here is a cut and paste DIRECTLY from the law:
              48-8-248.
              The proceeds of the tax collected by the state revenue commissioner in each special district under this article shall be disbursed as soon as practicable after collection to the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission to be maintained in a trust fund and administered by the commission on behalf of the special district imposing the tax. Such proceeds for each special district shall be kept separate from other funds of the commission and shall not in any manner be commingled with other funds of the commission.

              That last sentence is pretty clear that the money collected is in a trust fund cannot be mixed with other money. So you now are probably asking yourself how money is disbursed from said fund. I am glad you asked, because:

              Upon entering into contracts with the Department of Transportation or the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as provided above, the commission shall dispense funds upon the request of the commissioner of transportation or the executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which request shall include certification of the completion of the project or project element for which funds are requested.

              In other words, the money only comes out of the trust fund after a project is completed and the managing agency provides verification to the bank if you will. I know this is a novel and foreign concept, but it is right there in black and white that there are safeguards on this money. Wouldn’t it be neat-o if more of our tax dollars were spent on a verification based system?

              • Jackster says:

                So, then if there is NO way to divert TSPLOST funds away from the project list, then why isn’t that displayed in stronger language?

                For instance, would it be a crime to use these monies for other projects & uses? As in, if someone who spends a great deal of time looking for loop holes finds a way, is that ILLEGAL?

                To me, that’s what I’m looking for – a guarantee that if the project list changes in any way, then someone needs to pay up… if no one can make that guarantee and be accountable, then there is wiggle room there.

                However, if that indeed is the case, then that would be the only thing I can see would be novel about this law – that is – a special tax that actually would go to its purposes.

                Is that the case?

                • Big Tuna says:

                  Jack, I agree with you. It would be novel if tax dollars are spent the way they say they are going to be spent. That is how I read the trust fund and funds dispensing portions of the law. It says money “shall not be commingled” and money is dispensed at the request of the commissioner “shall include certification of the completion of a project.” To me, that is pretty straightforward and powerful stuff. Money is locked away until projects are complete.

                  Would it be nice if a misappropriation of funds would be punishable by death? Sure. The unfortunate part is that their is so much government skepticism out there, you will always have the Debbies of the world who will say “yeah, but…” If it is not TSPLOST, it will be something else but the end result is we all have to hold hands and jump. Together. This process is so different than business as usual that I believe it is worth a chance.

    • Jackster says:

      Debbie – “Based on population, Atlanta is receiving T-SPLOST funding that is 268 % of their population. Other counties receive less than their population.”

      I’m sure you know how a sponge works – it would seem to me the disproportionate funding based on population would be appropriate for the current problem. Atlanta needs to MOVE people, not house people. To me, that’s almost akin to a user fee with that statistic.

      The current problem is when all of those folks in the outer counties spend their time going to and from atlanta, not where they live. Your measurement of population doesn’t fit the problem – it’s about flow and volume, not about mass.

      This is why I disagree with the economic development aspect of these projects – they don’t actually go to address the motion of people coming from the burbs to atlanta.

      Think of it this way – if Dacula had the drawing power of Atlanta, you would want more money going there to handle the massive influx of liberals, but only if they stayed for 8-10 hours a day while they worked their shift. You’d want them out of there ASAP after their work was done for the day.

      • debbie0040 says:

        Georgia Public Policy Foundation stated in a report that because Atlanta is a jobs center, they should receive 8 -10 % more than their population – not 268%

        • Jackster says:

          I’m also trying to find the GPPF report, and to me it would be related to the % the population swells to during rush hour & business hours.

          Also, if this were a regional view – wouldn’t the funding not be specific to the city / county? this 268% wouldn’t really matter, would it?

  5. John Walraven says:

    Debbie, you wrote: “The Georgia Constitution should be amended to allow county commissions to decide which counties they want to go in partnership with for transportation projects.”

    Not necessary. Counties can, and many have, entered intergovernmental agreements to build transportation, water and various other infrastructure projects.

  6. debbie0040 says:

    The Consitution does not allow regional taxing authorities and that is the key as the county partnership would need to raise revenue.. Yes we have consulted an attorney on this. I have also had several legislators tell me they thought there could possibly be an issue with the Georgia Constitution on this when TIA was passed. If it passes, we will find out definitively if it does in the court challenge.

    The Perimter Mall area encompasses both Fulton and DeKalb County. When the Perimeter CID was created, there were two separate, legal CID’s that had to be created. One for Fulton and one for DeKalb.

    • Bob Loblaw says:

      Counties can enter into agreements with one another to spend as much as each county votes to expend on a list of transportation projects. No Constitutional amendment is required. The counties can agree to the method by which the revenues would be transferred from the county to the authority created in the intergovernmental agreement.

    • John Walraven says:

      The Constitution does not expressly prohibit the state from creating regions that could hold a referendum on whether to impose a 1% sales tax to fund a project list.

  7. Charlie says:

    I think I’ve done enough above to get the conversation started, but I do want to jump in and add one question for the rebuttal:

    Why do you presume the sales taxes collected should be based on population, and not where they are collected?

    You Gwinnett folks have virtually abandoned Gwinnett Place Mall in favor of Perimeter and Lenox (and to some extent, Mall of Georgia).

    Again, you want Fulton & DeKalb to supply the infrastructure for where you work and shop, but then expect to have the sales tax dollars you spend there exported back home?

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “You Gwinnett folks have virtually abandoned Gwinnett Place Mall in favor of Perimeter and Lenox (and to some extent, Mall of Georgia).”

      Gwinnett Place has been abandoned probably more for the Mall of Georgia than anywhere else (not to mention the newer Forum on Peachtree, the Avenue Webb Gin and the shopping area on Hwy 124 in Snellville and Discover Mills, all shopping areas that did not exist in Gwinnett Place’s heyday when the mall had the Northeast Metro Atlanta market virtually all to itself).

  8. analogkid says:

    Great piece Charlie. There are so many bad arguments being thrown around in an effort to kill the T-SPLOST that it makes me want to vote yes just so those parties don’t get to claim victory. Unfortunately, I’m still voting no in an effort to rebuke the legislature for its failure to lead.

    As far as alternative solutions, I’d actually be willing to support a doubling of the Fulton/DeKalb MARTA tax to 2% in order to expand the existing heavy rail system and construct the Beltline. It would require some good controls be put in place (including a sunset of the additional 1%), but I’d be surprised if a majority of voters in those two counties wouldn’t consent to it.

    Regarding roads, I don’t particularly care how much traffic someone has to endure on their drive from… oh I don’t know… Dacula to the Capitol. If those folks want better interstates to travel to (and through) Atlanta, I’m sure they’ll demand that the legislature find a way to pay for it.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “Unfortunately, I’m still voting no in an effort to rebuke the legislature for its failure to lead.”

      I’m with you 100% on that one as it’s not our job to decide whether or not to fund critical transportation infrastructure improvements (buried deep on a list full of porkbarrel projects, political favors and giveaways to well-connected cronies in the roadbuilding, construction, land spectulation and real estate overdevelopment fields).

      Financing transportation infrastructure is the LEGISLATURE’S job…That’s why we elect them to office and that’s what we pay them for, to make tough decisions and govern, not to make really bad decisions and poor choices and run and hide behind a cloak of the Tea Party and Conservativism when the bad decisions they make while refusing to do their jobs anger the the entire electorate.

  9. Bull Moose says:

    The campaign for T-SPLOST has been poorly executed and is reminiscent of the failed trauma funding campaign. The importance of T-SPLOST and the projects funded haven’t been connected to how it will improve day to day life in a way that will make most voters want to support it.

    That said, I ended up voting for T-SPLOST in spite of it’s problems because:

    1) a regional approach to transportation makes sense
    2) our illustrious elected officials do not have a plan b funding mechanism
    3) GA is at least 8-10 years behind in transportation because of a do nothing leadership and it’s time to catch up with the rest of the civilized world

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “The campaign for T-SPLOST has been poorly executed and is reminiscent of the failed trauma funding campaign. The importance of T-SPLOST and the projects funded haven’t been connected to how it will improve day to day life in a way that will make most voters want to support it.”

      You sound as if you are being very nice, because to many this T-SPLOST is increasingly feeling more and more reminiscent of the failed Northern Arc that got Roy Barnes and the then all-powerful Democrats booted from power.

      Only for Republicans, the fallout won’t involve the party losing power as much as it may likely involve the more “moderate” part of the party losing power and the party moving much harder to the right as a way to compensate for backing a massive tax increase in the T-SPLOST that likely is on its way to being rejected very-handily by the public.

      If (when) this thing fails, the fallout will likely involve the Republican-dominated State Legislature not even broaching the politically-delicate and complicated issue of increasing transportation funding for a very-long time as the concept of authoring and backing (early-on) a massive regional tax increase to fund economic-development and transit projects for liberal Intown urbanites in the City of Atlanta hasn’t exactly gone over all that well within the increasingly anti-tax and anti-government conservative base of the Republican Party.

      “2) our illustrious elected officials do not have a plan b funding mechanism”

      Most people might argue that with the proposed fatally-flawed T-SPLOST our political leaders don’t even have a “Plan A”, much less a “Plan B”.

      ” 3) GA is at least 8-10 years behind in transportation because of a do nothing leadership and it’s time to catch up with the rest of the civilized world”

      You are so correct that Georgia is way behind the times in having a modern multimodal transportation infrastructure, but by the time the fallout from the utter failure of this flawed T-SPLOST venture is over, Georgia (Metro Atlanta) may likely be 20 years or more behind the times as it could likely be a decade or more before the issue of transportation funding is ever again broached in the legislature, not unlike in the aftermath and fallout from the failed Northern Arc.

  10. seekingtounderstand says:

    Yes, those that are living comfortably will not mind the new tax. The people without a voice, the poor will suffer. The republicans plan is to turn on the consumption taxes and TSLPOST is just the start of more to come.

  11. Baker says:

    I don’t agree with Debbie on this issue, but a big hooray for her, however brief, mention of the stupidity of building a new stadium for Los Halcones.

    • Bob Loblaw says:

      So I guess we get to blame you, too, for using state government phone lines in robocalling from your buddy, Sen. Fort? Aren’t you supposed to be on the Ethics bus?

      • Big Tuna says:

        This is what I find hilarious:

        “Opponents say it needs to be reworked and brought back.”

        So in two years time, those who put transit on the list b/c it is important to their constituencies will decide it is not really important to them after all? What other sort of magic do you have in your bag of tricks?

  12. Baker says:

    I would also like to point out that if Vincent Fort got what he wanted, Chip Rogers and Tea Party folks would freak out, and vice versa.

    This project list went through so many elected officials hands and was voted on by them as the best option. They didn’t have the necessary nuggets to just pass the thing, they didn’t want to have to face political consequences. Boy that would’ve been easier.

  13. Baker says:

    And another thing rabble rabble rabble….

    Everyone is aware that the entire rest of the country hears Atlanta and immediately thinks traffic jam right?

      • John Konop says:

        I think we are obviously loosing productivity and opportunity via the current infastructure. We have tremendous assets to build off to help grow ie the airport, 75, 20 and the port in southern part of state. The following are major ditrubition veins across the country and the world. Yet if we do not improve the system feeding this than it will stagnate our growth ie loop, 400,rail,575,85…….. All of us gain or get caught holding an empty bag if we do not work together on the above infastructure.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          +1

          (…Though I don’t think that this poorly thought-out and lazily put together T-SPLOST is exactly the way to go about making critically-needed improvements)

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        We passed those infrastructure sustainability limits a long time ago, probably around the time of the Olympics when the region’s population was about 3.5 million as the late ’90’s was when Metro Atlanta started having increasingly very severe transportation infrastructure (or lack there of) capacity problems.

        The much hated New York Times even ran a special report on Atlanta’s notorious reputation for excessive sprawl and traffic congestion back in 1999.
        http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/21/us/choking-growth-special-report-atlanta-suburban-comforts-thwart-plans-limit.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

        That article was 13 years ago and we’ve done virtually nothing since while our regional population has grown by about 1.7 million and our competitors in Dallas and Houston have made very serious attempts to try and seemingly nearly double the capacity of their already more extensive transportation infrastructures.

        • Harry says:

          But at some point don’t the costs exceed the benefits? Rather than raising taxes to build more of doubtful utility, shouldn’t we be creatively putting workers closer to work, or work closer to workers? I actually think the region is already making some progress in this regard. Maybe congested freeways can have an unintended positive effect, to get us to look for alternatives to rush hour.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            The costs of (wisely) investing in infrastructure (transportation, water or education) never exceeds the benefits especially when a region attracts and creates massive new investment (in the form of employment opportunities and monetary additions to the local property tax digests) and classes of highly-educated and highly-paid professionals who elevate the overall tax base and local economy with their mere presence.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            Those large corporations that locate to an area because of an impressive transportation infrastructure that helps to get their employees to and from work in a timely manner and their executives to and from the airport and other various locations around town help to pay for the schools, parks, libraries, sanitation and police and fire protection with their massive contributions to the tax base.

            I agree that just simply raising taxes is not necessarily the most effective way to upgrade and expand our undersized and overcapacity transportation infrastructure because just like Charlie said in the blog entry, its time for this town and this region to grow up and have an adult debate about transportation, which means coming to grips and accepting the fact that transportation mobility in a heavily-populated and fast-growing major metro area of six million people is more of a commodity that requires paying for what each individual uses than it is a God-given right that just falls out of the sky into our collective laps.

            If we want much better roads than we are going to have to be willing to pay for them, if we want much better transit that actually goes places that we need it and want it to go when we want it to go then we are going to have to be willing a heckuva lot more than just $2.50-$3.00 one-way while expecting someone else, somewhere else to pay for it.

            Rather than banging our heads against the wall again and again and again while trying to push through and force everyone to accept tax increases that they don’t want while (unsuccessfully) trying to brainwash everyone into thinking that taxes are the fairest way to pay for the barest of bare minimums of transportation upgrades and political favors and giveaways to cronies, we should probably be paying for our overwhelming transportation needs in much more innovating ways with distance-based user fees for roads and transit (distance-based and zone-based fares) and public-private partnerships and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from future new development that pops up along transit lines).

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            I agree that the region is making not just some, but very significant progress in getting people to live closer to work as the population of the City of Atlanta has been increasing over the past couple of decades after many years of population declines with many (though most certainly not all) formerly-declining Intown neighborhoods (like Midtown, East Atlanta, Grant Park, Cabbagetown, etc) becoming increasingly desirable properties.

            Though even with more people living closer to where most of the jobs are they still may not quite live directly next to where they work, which means that there still has to be a way to get them the shorter distance between home and work (train, bus, bike, taxicab, short drive, etc), which means that persuading and motivating people to live closer to work does still not completely relieve us of having to invest in our transportation infrastructure.

            We also don’t want to see the reverse effect of the city seeing too much growth (which leads to a very sharp spike in housing prices in the city to the point of being unaffordable and a spillover of home buyers back into the more affordable suburbs) and the suburbs going into steep decline because of a total lack (or an outright refusal) of the proper investment in a multimodal transportation infrastructure (investments like separated grades at major intersections of busy surface roads where applicable, regional commuter rail and bus, etc).

            • Harry says:

              As someone mentioned, there have recently been 10 new jobs created in the suburbs for every job created in Atlanta. This means that people can often choose to live closer to their work, and at lower cost.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                You are very correct, Sir, but in a major population center of six million people there are always going to be very substantial numbers of people commuting between different areas because there are always going to be areas within a very-large metro where there are more (higher-paying) jobs (Airport, Lockheed, Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Cumberland, Dunwoody/Perimeter, Emory, Alpharetta/Windward, etc) than others (Gwinnett, Henry, Douglas, Fayette, Cherokee, Paulding, sparcely-populated outlying exurban and rural counties etc), not-to-mention the exceptionally inordinate amount of out-of-state (heavy freight truck, tourist and vacationeer) traffic passing through on three of the busiest superhighways on the entire planet (I-75, I-85 and I-20) that must be amounted for along with exceptionally-heavy local rush hour commuter traffic.

  14. Self_Made says:

    Nice debate, same vernacular…move everything and everybody to the northern suburbs (until they decide to run to Tennessee). “Distance based” fares? Another way to stick it to the southsiders who pay taxes, mortgages, and have been an employment base for decades…while newer transplants simply “locate close to their jobs”, leaving southside residents to either make the 1.5-2 hour commutes or leave their jobs because the cost of getting there “outweighs” the benefits that can be purchased by what remains of their salaries. The traffic infrastructure of the CORE must be developed and upgraded, along with long distance transit options, but that’s exactly what most of the people opposed to TSPLOST don’t want.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      The Southside will likely always be at a tremendous disadvantage to the Northside as the Northside is much more heavily-populated, has a much-larger state and federal legislative delegation, has the two mega-lakes (Allatoona and Lanier) and the highly-desirable lakefront property and recreational areas that go with them, etc.

      The demographical and political imbalance between the Northside (mainly above I-20) and the Southside (mainly below I-20) is one of the flaws of this regional T-SPLOST referendum approach as there will always be more projects on the Northside chosen for funding in a regional funding referendum approach that uses a list and the Southside will likely always feel left out as most, if not virtually all, of the focus is on the I-285 Top End, I-75/575 Northwest, GA 400 North and I-85 Northeast Corridors.

      Different geographical areas and transportation corridors have different logistical needs. On the Northside the focus is dealing with massive overpopulation and overcrowding in most precincts, but on the Southside, economic development (attracting more newcomers and business so as to be more competitive with the much more-dominant Northside) in addition to traffic relief (that I-75 South Corridor is an absolute traffic mess during much of the day, the bottleneck on Hwy 85 in Riverdale and Forest Park, Hwy 19-41, etc) also plays a key role.

  15. Dave Bearse says:

    Great explanation of regional as being a form of local control.

    Outlying counties like Cherokee and Fayette are reciving back 90% plus of the sales taxes collected there, but that’s evidently not enough.

    The small government/privatiation principles the GOP has cultivated for so long—there’s simply no need for taxes to pay for anything that is disagreeable (small government), or is personally beneficial (privatization)—-is home to roost..

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      A commonly-heard refrain in Cherokee is that many residents don’t particularly want anything built in the county out of fear that it may lead to the type of overbuilding that has almost completely urbanized once-exurban Cobb and Gwinnett counties. There’s kind of an internal strife going on in the county between those who want to build more and those who want to keep the county as exurban and rural as possible.

      There’s a similar dynamic that is going on in Fayette where many residents want to try and keep away the sprawl and overbuilding that has quickly turned Cobb and Gwinnett from suburban and exurban/rural counties into overpopulated and overcrowded parts of the urban core. Fayette has even gone as far as to try and leave the 10-county Metro Atlanta region on a few occasions so as to be disassociated with the urban area and to try and minimize the possibility of being connected to the city by any future transit lines as there are currently no transit lines in the county.

      • Charlie says:

        I lived in Fayette from 1969 – when the county had about 10,000 people – until a few years ago. I’ve heard my entire life that we don’t want infrastructure because then people might move here.

        The county now has over 100,000 people, still limited infrastructure, and very little ability to get in our out of the county during most of the day.

        That said, it is the only county in the 10 county region that has no interstate highway of any kind. Fayette (and the other 4 smaller counties) should have never been included in the Atlanta region. Too many no votes that will never change, not enough extra sales tax revenue among them to make the no votes worth it.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          The creation of special TIA regions would add a whole additional level of squabble to the process.

      • saltycracker says:

        LDG, it is not entirely a war against growth. Growth in metro Atlanta counties is coming as sure as the tide. The issue is getting growth to fund a bit more of growth and with a clear land use plan so the counties can grow as the citizens want it to.

        It will not happen without a master plan they will stick to (a fantasy) as there is just too much money to be made and extracted while deferring the costs of public services to the future.

        You (land owner, developer, builder, banker….) can make a lot more money building 1,000 homes as long as you don’t have any plans to get tapped for the schools & emergency services needed then and leaving it to everyone in the county (not just the newbies) to pay for down the road.

        The more folks we get like this the more everyone’s taxes (or public debt) have to go up (no strength in numbers with this kind of growth).

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          The problem with the possibly more reasonable planned land use approach that you describe is that private landowners who may be in the path of advancing growth and development in the outer suburbs and exurbs and outlying rural areas will likely always resist any attempts at a land use plan that guides growth to certain places in a county so that they can reserve the right to sell their land to the highest-bidding land spectulator or real estate developer on the open market.

          A prime example of this occurance is found in the link to the 1999 New York Times article on Atlanta sprawl that I posted yesterday:

          “”A stark example of their conflicting interests occurred recently in Cherokee County, a largely undeveloped area 25 miles north of downtown where the population has grown more than 50 percent since 1990…….
          …..Last year, at the urging of newcomers who moved in and then wanted to slow the growth around them, the county commission passed an innovative plan to concentrate development in 13 town centers, leaving most of the county pastoral. Longtime landowners, however, fought the plan bitterly because it meant they might not be able to sell to developers; some zoning meetings erupted in fistfights. In July, the commission dropped the plan…..
          …….”I haven’t given up,” said Emily Lemcke, the chairwoman of the Cherokee commissioners and a leading proponent of careful growth. ”I still hope that we can educate people and get them to understand that the whole region is going to have to change. But for now, there are still too many people who don’t want to be told how to live their lives or what to do with their land.””
          http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/21/us/choking-growth-special-report-atlanta-suburban-comforts-thwart-plans-limit.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

        • Jon Richards says:

          This reminds me of the discussions we had when I was on the citizens committee for Gwinnett’s 2030 plan five years ago. I see two possible solutions: one is transfer of development rights, where someone who wants to build with more density than is allowed by zoning conditions pays the longtime rural landowner for the right to build with higher density in a targeted area (in Gwinnett’s case, along the I-85 corridor) in exchange for a deed restriction that prevents the rural land from being developed. The landowner gets his cash out, while the developer gets to build more cheaply.

          The other solution is charging an impact fee to cover the costs of fire stations, schools, sewer, etc. This solution makes the land less valuable to the developer, since she/he won’t make as much of a profit, but does reimburse some of the costs to the government.

          We did recommend that Gwinnett implement TDR’s in order to keep the eastern part of the county less developed and to make the I-85 corridor more urbanized.

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