WSB has a new poll conducted statewide of 800 voters on the subject of transportation funding. The poll was conducted by Landmark Communications (the ones we defended here a lot during the campaign for being generally correct) by auto response, with a margin of error of 3.5%. Not surprisingly, a public that has had four years of campaigns promising they are “taxed enough already” aren’t quite ready to say “please raise my taxes”. First, the results:
1) “Generally speaking, would you support or oppose an increase in the gas tax to fund maintenance of existing roads and bridges.”
2) Generally speaking, would you support or oppose an increase of one cent of the existing statewide sales tax to fund maintenance of existing roads and bridges:
3) Generally speaking, if an increase in the gas tax was offset by a reduction in the income tax rate, would you support or oppose?
4) Generally speaking, should all of the funds be spent on road improvements or should some of these funds be spent on mass transit improvements as well?
Funds should be spent on road improvements only: 37.2
Funds should be spent on mass transit improvements as well: 40.8
Naturally, I reached out to our Editor in Chief Charlie Harper, who also has been working on transportation advocacy, and found him on a ledge. He still managed to answer a few questions while he appeared to be also pondering gravity, vertical acceleration, and the likely landing spot.
Me: So, are you surprised people don’t want to raise taxes?
Harper: Despite our best efforts, no. And we’re not at a point where the public has engaged at a level to understand what we’re talking about, and the magnitude of our problems. The study committee’s work on this issue was great, very detailed, and held in public forums. But most of the public was more concerned with UGA football during the time they were meeting. And honestly, who among us shouldn’t have been?
Me: So, what does this poll tell us?
Harper: That we should take back all the nice things we wrote about Rountree?
Me: Other than the obvious.
Harper: Well, the answers show that the public has feelings they’ve yet to quantify, or they would have different answers – or at least different proportions.
Me: How so?
Harper: The first question just asks about an unspecified increase in the gas tax. It doesn’t give an amount. Could be a single cent per gallon, could be $1 – as was recently in the news by a Conservative columnist, Krauthammer I believe – who thinks we should do this as a matter of energy policy but offset it with a cut in FICA taxes so that it’s generally revenue neutral to lower wage earners. We don’t know an amount they have a 60% aversion to. The study committee recommended an option of a ten cent increase in gas taxes. That would still put us slightly below taxes collected in NC and FL, and would raise $600M…
Me: You talk faster than I can type.
Harper: You went to college out of state didn’t you? I’ll try to talk slower…. So, the next question that is 8% more favorable to those polled calls for a 1% increase in the statewide sales tax. That would raise $1.4 Billion dollars. So we’re to conclude from this poll that at least 8% of Georgians oppose raising $600M, but favor raising $1.4 Billion. And, by the way, all of this was for “existing roads and bridges”. There’s no mention of new projects, congestion relief, etc.
Me: So you’re saying…
Harper: I’m saying it’s likely realistic of where we are with the general public. The same people, if asked, would likely say “someone should do something” with respect to traffic. They would say -as they did for an AJC poll recently- that they favor transit options but want someone else to pay for it. It’s not a surprise that people want stuff, but hate taxes. But they’re going to have to have more information of what the needs are, how they will be met, and how much it will cost individual Georgia drivers.
Me: Any bright spots?
Harper: Despite as noted above from the AJC poll that these folks are opposed to taxes, they are willing to weigh in on how to spend the money. And the attitudes toward transit are changing. Note again this is statewide, and 40.8 percent of people believe some unspecified amount should go to transit. While transit won’t be a solution everywhere, we have to understand transit’s role in the inner core of Atlanta, as well as the proximity to transit being a reason for many of the large corporate relocations we’ve seen recently both in Atlanta and in Sandy Springs.
Me: Closing thoughts?
Harper: Other than where I will land?
Me: I mean before you jump.
Harper: Oh, well, I guess I’d like to see the question, asked this way: ‘Would you favor paying $5 per month if you had a level of confidence that major statewide construction projects would be undertaken to relieve congestion on your commute, and GDOT could return to a maintenance schedule that keeps our roads repaved and bridges safe?’ Because at the end of the day, however we get there, the cost to the average driver would likely increase between $5-$10 per month. It’s not a trivial amount and any time the government looks for new revenue the discussion had better be serious and not trivial. But we also shouldn’t make policy decisions for 25 year time horizons based on IVR polls of a public that has yet to be engaged on an issue. So if we’re going to solve this problem, it’s clear we have some work to do.
Me: And how much of that work can you get done on that ledge?
Harper: Fine. I’ll get to work. But get off my lawn.