Today’s Courier Herald Column:
T-SPLOST voters will make up their minds based on what they think is in their best interests. I live in the Atlanta region, in one of the 10 counties that make up the Atlanta Regional Commission. The economic health of Georgia extends far beyond these 10 counties to the entire state. As such, the transportation problems in my area are problems for all of Georgia. The results of this vote, and the reactions to it, will affect us all for many years to come.
Atlanta is no longer the bustling little capitol of the South. We are a major international city with respect to commerce, logistics, and with a reputation as being the birthplace to civil rights. We look forward, not backward. Growth has been part of our DNA for a half a century and we have come to take it for granted. For growth to resume, we will have to invest heavily in infrastructure. For this investment to be worthwhile, it will have to be done on a regional basis.
This will cost money, and a lot of it. These facts are not in dispute.
That’s why I had hoped to be for the T-SPLOST referendum. I told Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed 18 months ago I looked forward to helping pass it. And I did. But I can’t. Despite the fact that this may be the best option we’ll have the chance of passing, there is still too much fundamentally wrong here that the negatives, from my personal vantage point, outweigh the positives. We need to do better, and we can start by voting no.
The merits and deficiencies of Atlanta’s T-SPLOST have been the subject of months of debate, and I will not attempt to rehash all of them here. At the end of the day, it is the tactics and threats that have been used to move this bill forward that ultimately prevent its support. The failure of Atlanta’s T-SPLOST will set Atlanta back a couple of years, and maybe more. It should also serve as a wakeup call to certain elected officials that demagoguery isn’t leadership. Action, vision, commitment, and direction are required to solve Georgia’s problems that lie ahead.
Mayor Reed has done his part, and continues to do so. He’ll be in Atlanta’s suburbs on Tuesday, in Smyrna, showing his commitment to Atlanta as a region. His term as mayor has been marked by similar actions beyond his actual political boundaries, extending his assistance to points as far away as the Port of Savannah. Mayor Reed has the vision, but his support costs him little. It’s not his constituents that are opposed to higher taxes.
Governor Deal is actively supporting T-SPLOST, and deserves some credit for attempting to find a solution –though his staff is very quick to point out that TSPLOST wasn’t his idea. Regardless, at least the Governor has been willing to expend political capital campaigning for a referendum unpopular with his base. That’s quite better than the abject cowardice coming from some quarters of the legislature.
Many “leaders” in the Georgia General Assembly have proven to be anything but. Held out for special scorn is Senator Chip Rogers, who was Majority Leader when this bill passed the Senate, and served as an ex-officio member of the committee that gave unanimous approval to the project list. Now in a tough re-election battle with a pro-T-SPLOST opponent, Rogers and fellow Cherokee legislator Sean Jerguson are running away from T-SPLOST as fast as they can. Cherokee voters should question this duplicity as they decide who should represent them going forward.
Several running for other offices, such as Lee Anderson running for the GOP nod in the 12th Congressional district, pass their vote for T-SPLOST off as a measure to give “the people the option” and the “freedom to choose”. They tend to avoid follow up questions as to why the people would want to choose to penalize themselves for less state matching funds if they don’t exercise their freedom to penalize themselves with higher taxes. These are the choices “the people” must make when leadership decisions are abdicated.
People are sick of semantic games that lead to extending and increasing taxes. They are also weary of giving a 16% increase in sales taxes to a government that rewards insiders, routinely circumvents transparency, skirts ethics laws, and funds pork projects for the well-connected from existing revenues while putting necessities like transportation infrastructure and trauma care to voters as referendums.
This isn’t how Republicans campaign, but after 10 years, it is clearly how we govern. Voting yes will merely reward a lack of leadership and enable a continuance of this system.
The hysterical cries that “there is no plan B” are insufficient to pass this bill. Instead, it is more of a reason to vote against current incumbents. Leadership is about contingency planning. There is always, and must always, be a plan B. Any leader who says otherwise is either lying, or not qualified to be a leader.
Plan B should start with re-directing the 1% of motor fuels sales taxes from the general fund and to transportation projects. It should continue by re-directing Atlanta’s hotel motel tax revenues away from an unneeded new downtown stadium and into downtown transit infrastructure that would serve more of the region than 8 games of pro football annually will. And it must continue with suburban Atlantans and the rest of Georgia understanding that MARTA must be a regional transit system in order to effectively serve its mission. The state must also either support MARTA, which it currently does not, or release fiscal restrictions that prohibit the agency from using fare revenues to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance.
But Plan B will only start with Plan A losing, and even then it will only start with real leadership from the Republican side of the aisle. After all, Democrats cannot be blamed for T-SPLOST’s failure. It is uniquely a Republican solution that will be soundly rejected by Republican voters.
Many Republicans who plan to continue their political careers better have a plan B for transportation very quickly, or everyday Georgians may very well make voting for Democrats their Plan B.