Two Pictures And Two Georgias

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

“Two Georgias” has been the longest running theme in Georgia politics. It has always been us verses them when trolling for votes, rather at the ballot box or at the legislature.  Usually it is rural versus urban.  Sometimes it is rich versus poor.  At times, black versus white.

On Monday, the AJC’s Jim Galloway brought us photographic evidence of the new two Georgias.  In side by side pictures, he showed shots of back to back press conferences.  The first was the power structure of Georgia.  The Governor, Lt. Governor, Atlanta Mayor, Legislators, civic and business leaders had all crowded the capital in a strong show of institutional support for T-SPLOST.  As soon as they were done, a sparse crowd from the Transportation Leadership Council gave their rebuttal.

The imagery was obvious, as it has become common over the last decade.  When politicians and the well connected VIPs who feast on government unite, the game is over.  Those in power or who want power know which side to be on.  The other side is ridiculed and ignored.   The two Georgias are now those who govern us, and those who are governed.

At the Capitol Monday, those who govern dominated the frame.  On Tuesday, the governed spoke up.

The powerful side, branded as “Untie Atlanta” for the capitol region, had $8M to spend, with another $2 million to be spent statewide.   Slight dyslexia has had me reading their signs as “Unite Atlanta”, and ironically, that is exactly what happened.  In all ten individual counties in the Atlanta region, T-SPLOST was defeated.

All but three regions in the state rejected the measure.  The loss was stunning in scope and scale.  This was about much more than transportation.  This was a rebuke of leadership on the transportation issue, and to some extent, governance in general.  After 10 years of inaction and abdication of responsibility for improving transportation, the issue that was punted to the voters by Republicans was returned with a vote of “no confidence”.

Polling by the groups promoting the issue demonstrated that “trust” was a major issue with voters being asked to give a state government even more of their income.  As evidence of the public’s understanding of the trust issue, 87% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats favor capping the amount of gratuities that government officials take from lobbyists.

Those supporters whose numbers are great at the capitol but short at the ballot box want things.  Arthur Blank, who headlined a fundraiser to raise the funds for the TSPLOST PR campaign, is still awaiting nearly a half billion dollars for a new stadium.  Atlanta’s Mayor spent last week telling radio stations that MARTA’s expansion was critical for our convention industry. Will he now insist that we proceed to build a duplicative stadium when federal matching funds combined with hotel tax monies earmarked for a stadium could build the beltline?  It would seem a more responsible use of a tax on hotels to help hotels.

Likewise, Governor Deal spent Tuesday quietly sending out word that he would be taking a much more central role in transportation planning and has no stomach to go back to the voters for another referendum.  He’ll have to pinch pennies to fund the most needed projects.  That’s quaint.  It’s also what opponents have been urging to this tone deaf administration who kept insisting on pursing a fatally flawed plan left on his doorstep by a former Governor.  Had the public any confidence that this step had already been taken, then perhaps the “need” for a 16% increase in sales taxes paid would have been considered more favorably.

Republican legislative leaders, however, deserve the biggest criticism of those that govern us for their substitution of doublespeak for leadership.  Faced with the need to “do something” in 2010 as a runup to elections, they created an unworkable regional plan to kick the can down the road two more years.  When it came time for the public to raise their own taxes because the legislators don’t want to violate a pledge, many ran from the bill of their own creation.  This is not leadership, but rather cowardice of the first order.

While many of these “leaders” retained their seats in Tuesday’s primaries, more than expected of their peers did not, with a couple of others barely surviving or in runoffs.  The Senate, in particular, needs wholesale leadership changes.

The powerful will no doubt react to these criticisms as is now their custom.  They will accuse conservatives of aligning with “liberal interest groups” in order to harm the party.  There is only one party in Georgia right now.   The Democratic party that ruled Georgia for over a century no longer exists.  Many of them are now Republicans, maintaining the status quo of a system of patronage that is by insiders, and for insiders.

The insiders lost Tuesday.  The next step isn’t Plan B.  For Georgia to excel, the next step is to remember that when the capitol is crowded, it better have room for the voters.  For as long as the divide for the two Georgias are the governing and the governed, Georgia is ungovernable.

21 comments

  1. ryanhawk says:

    And what about the two Georgias that exist in the mind of schizophrenic voters who overwhelmingly rejected TSPLOST while reelecting the incumbents responsible for it. As Don Balfour said, he’s been doing it that way for 20 years…

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      Balfour always gets the last laugh. He’s like that last little bit of frozen coke in a cup. You can suck through that straw all you want, but you just can’t get him out.

    • Charlie says:

      That’s either tomorrow or Monday’s column. There are many pages to this autopsy.

      The overriding point I’m trying to make is that this loss wasn’t about a transportation problem, it is a leadership problem. And there are many, many chefs in that kitchen.

      • Calypso says:

        Short-order cooks, not chefs. Collectively, the best those yahoos could be called are cooks. Chef implies to much professionalism and knowledge. No Waffle House/Balfour pun intended.

        And you are correct. Most everyone agrees there’s a problem with transportation. Many of those same folks would be willing to pay more to get the problems lessened, if not resolved. The problems with TSPLOST were its structure, its presentation, the project list and most important, the fact that the legislature abdicated its responsibilities and pawned off this complex project onto an ill-informed electorate.

        They lost sight of the fact that we have a representative democracy. They have been elected to represent us, to do the heavy lifting and make the hard choices on issues specifically like state-wide transportation planning and its requisite funding. The legislature let us down and the constituency responded by kicking the ball back to them.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          I agree with everything you said except that the electorate was ill-informed.

          Oh contraire, I think that the public was very informed that the powers-that-be were trying to pull yet another fast one on them, possibly the biggest fast one ever in this state’s history, which is why the T-SPLOST went down in such flames.

        • SallyForth says:

          @Calypso, good post – I love your conclusion that “The legislature let us down and the constituency responded by kicking the ball back to them.” Exactly!

  2. seekingtounderstand says:

    TSPLOST was always about a bigger picture than just a new tax. CH manages to put it into words. Thanks!

  3. Spacey G says:

    You mean to type “UNTIE Atlanta” at this part of the graph? “The powerful side, branded as “Unite Atlanta” for the capitol region…”

    Yours in word-play,
    A non-dyslexic elitist

  4. GTKay says:

    Charlie, what is your opinion of this business of pledges in the first place? I think they’re foolish. I want my representative to consider legislation on my behalf and vote in a way that represents his district. I don’t want him measuring it up to some pledge, and then voting in a way that will keep him out of some activist’s crosshairs. Or worse, seeing legislation through the sole lens of whether it violates a pledge without considering the merits of the entire body. I’m afraid the latter is where we’re headed, and I think it shows a simplistic and shortsighted view of the legislative process. I understand the issue with public trust, but what’s the difference between voting to please a special interest and voting to satisfy a pledge? We’re dumbing down the process all the way around.

  5. wicker says:

    “Atlanta’s Mayor spent last week telling radio stations that MARTA’s expansion was critical for our convention industry. Will he now insist that we proceed to build a duplicative stadium when federal matching funds combined with hotel tax monies earmarked for a stadium could build the beltline? It would seem a more responsible use of a tax on hotels to help hotels.”

    It would be better that the Atlanta hotel/motel tax not be spent at all than to pour it into the Beltline. Here’s the deal: Atlanta-Fulton-DeKalb can’t go it alone with expanding MARTA. They are going to need help from either the region or the state. Sure, that $600 million would fund construction of the Beltline (or so they say). Where are the operations and maintenance funds going to come from?

    A new stadium would be a major project to benefit downtown, provide a proven, stable revenue source, pay for its own maintenance, generate a profit for the city, and keep the franchise – a major asset to the city – in the hands of a local, capable civic-minded owner. Meanwhile, without expansion and proper funding, the Beltline only adds to the white elephant that is MARTA. The Beltline shouldn’t go through without ironclad commitments from the state to properly fund it.
    And as for wanting MARTA to be reformed before more money goes into it? Fine. You want to run it? You pay for it. If the people who keep claiming “MARTA is mismanaged and burdened by incompetence” really believe that, then take over MARTA, end the MARTA tax that Fulton-DeKalb pay, and let the state pay for its operation, maintenance, expansion and administrative costs. But it won’t come cheap. That is land, facilities, tracks, trains, equipment etc. that Fulton and DeKalb owns. Meaning that the state will have to pay its current owners for it.

    Using the hotel/motel tax for transportation is a horrible idea that would have never been proposed had it not been for A) the T-SPLOST and B) the stadium proposal being made at the same time. Now that T-SPLOST has been defeated, I hope folks stop casting salivating eyes towards Atlanta’s tax revenues and start minding their own tax receipts.

    • Charlie says:

      I appreciate your tireless efforts on behalf of the Blank family, but let’s get real.

      It was the Mayor, whom I respect, who kept making the case for TSPLOST this week on the need for the MARTA expansions/beltline because of the vitality of the convention business. His case, not mine. The hotel industry, which bears the burden of this tax, is dependent on MARTA.

      The GA Dome is fine for the other events it currently hosts. So any economic development studies presented about the need for a new stadium have only to do with the incremental impact of 8 Falcons games per year, and that’s only if Arthur Blank really wants to hold a gun to the head of those in Atlanta and tell us if he can’t get a half billion dollars of our money that we urgently need for infrastructure improvements that he’s going to take his team elsewhere. And him finding a city in this environment that will make him a better offer. Good luck and best wishes if he does.

      The AJC this week had a front page story saying in the current environment, new stadiums aren’t paying for themselves. All these “expert” studies are overly inflated, and the stadiums are net drains to taxpayers well above the projections.

      You can keep telling us “A new stadium would be a major project to benefit downtown, provide a proven, stable revenue source, pay for its own maintenance, generate a profit for the city” all you want. Tuesday demonstrated to all that the people are now paying attention. they’re also skeptical of all rent seekers, including pro team owners.

      We have the “expert” studies about CoolRay field in Gwinnett. (pay attention anyone also buying Dan O’Leary’s similar “world class casino” argument). We have places like Cincinnati and others that can’t amortize their new stadiums’ debts on the taxes initially allocated. And we have the case made by the Atlanta business and political community that we have a traffic infrastructure emergency, led by none other than Arthur Blank.

      So, now that the $8Billion in future tax revenue has gone away, are we to pretend that we don’t still have the same emergency? Because I don’t see replacing a 20 year old Dome as an emergency since my name isn’t Arthur Blank.

    • Baker says:

      The only revenue a new stadium would produce would be to pay back the money used to build the dang thing, and even then it might not add up.

  6. Bull Moose says:

    Great editorial Charlie.

    To me, there is a total lack of trust of state government, and to a lesser extent local government.

    A great starting point would be for the legislature to pass and the Governor sign the McKoon Ethics Bill as a first step in the right direction.

    Secondly, voters have to wake up and stop electing the same old people to office if they want anything to change.

    And finally, DOT needs to be reformed from top to bottom – from the type of people appointed to the DOT BOARD to the leadership of the agency. Once you fix DOT then go find funding resources. And those funding resources would be better found as a repurposing of the LOST or SPLOST penny and a combination of gas taxes and transportation user fees than passing another new penny.

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    Georgia conservatives after 25 years have got the easy part done—inculcate inherent distrust of government, and opposition to any tax increases for any reason. (T-SPLOST is but the biggest and most recent, but the trauma tax was another example.)

    The inherent distrust government will make it difficult when it comes to changing entitlements, (not necessarily even reducing them), and making spending cuts.

    It’s been a GaGOP show for nearly a decade, and the state’s trajectory is evident.

  8. ieee says:

    Georgia and other governments proved to me a long time ago that often they are nothing but criminal regimes. They quickly, carelessly, and tritely set aside facts, fairness, and American ideals just so they can appease stupid people by attacking unpopular U.S. citizens.

    I am done with people and governments who think there cannot be enough laws and never tire of trying to tell other people what to do. So I am going to be at war with those people and governments. Mind your own business and stay out of my life.

    I would love to have an extremely well-funded government that does very limited things. I would love to have a government that uses our money to build wonderful facilities for us all. But that is not going to happen. Even in the next legislative session in Georgia, they will pass laws that expand their nanny big government before they do anything about something as trivial as transportation. I will continue voting to keep money away from them.

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