Voters in Georgia do not trust the political establishment in Georgia right now. What compounds this is that I get the sense much of the political establishment in Georgia holds the citizens in contempt. They just won’t do as they are told.
The T-SPLOST fell victim to this conundrum. The legislature did not have the testicular fortitude to raise taxes or make other difficult choices, so it punted off to the voters and told them to raise their own taxes or see their transportation funding cut. The voters overwhelmingly rejected the T-SPLOST in most of the state.
Now, of course, several regions of the state went along with it. Some of those areas are the poorest in the state. Their sales tax will now increase putting them at more of a competitive disadvantage to neighboring regions. It is the consequence of some rather narrow thinking of politicians convinced of their own righteousness.
Governor Deal — truth be told — never liked the T-SPLOST idea. He was a team player and wound up on the losing side of a plan he never much cared for to begin with. The ball is now in his court and he has the opportunity to both restore trust and have a more tremendous impact on the state than his last two predecessors, neither of whom have left much of a legacy.
In doing so, the Governor’s first step should not be to come up with a plan.
Governor Deal’s first step should be to change the attitude of the political leaders in the state, from the Republican leadership to the army of high paid lobbyists and lawyers on Peachtree to the Chamber of Commerce. These people ooze contempt for the average voter. The Chamber’s campaign for the T-SPLOST had more of a “why don’t you people just do as you are told!” feel for it than an actual persuasive effort. The persuasive component was unconvincing, complicated, and rather disingenuous.
Atlanta would not be untied by the T-SPLOST. Everybody knows it. That the T-SPLOST supporters made the argument with a straight face made it even more laughable.
The Mason-Dixon poll by the AJC that came out the Sunday before the election showed that 41% of voters were less likely to vote for the T-SPLOST because Governor Deal got rid of the toll of GA-400. Voters viewed it as a desperate political ploy and they are tired of too clever by half ploys to woo them. 90% of voters know Metro Atlanta needs to address its traffic problems. But the T-SPLOST was a too easy solution for politicians always in search of easy answers.
Voters are tired of the political class in Georgia. They do not trust them. They are pretty sure the political class does not care for them and the feeling is now largely mutual.
On WSB Radio on Monday, the T-SPLOST proponents argued for the T-SPLOSt with the same rhetoric President Obama used to pass his stimulus plan in 2009 — a stimulus plan he no longer talks about given its deep unpopularity. In the WSB debate, Dave Williams of the Chamber of Commerce uttered the T-SPLOST equivalent of Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line. He told the listening audience, “Delta is a job creator, which is something that a lot of these tea parties don’t do.”
In other words, listen to Delta, which stands to benefit from your tax increase instead of the tea party. It ignores that many tea party activists are small businessmen. It pits small businessmen against big business — a growing problem for the Chamber of Commerce. And it just highlighted again the contempt the T-SPLOST campaign showed for its opponents.
Regardless of Dave Williams’ view of the tea party, it and the overwhelming majority of the Atlanta region were much more effective than the Chamber and its friends $8 million. All the opponents of the T-SPLOSt campaign had to do was point out the political opportunism of the T-SPLOST supporters and remind voters of their distrust of government.
You can’t buy trust. You earn it. T-SPLOST supporters never did that.