Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Atlanta's future? Tied up in knots

With Tuesday's defeat of a proposed 1-cent sales tax for regional transportation needs, including both transit and highway improvements, the outlook for the huge metro region's future looks grim.

This gloomy analysis from Streetsblog describes a state Department of Transportation mired in debt, one that ranks 49th nationally in per capita transportation spending.

The defeat of what was called T-SPLOST (might that name have been a factor in the loss? It sounds like something splatting on a hard floor), also means the ambitious greenway-around-the-city called the Beltline has no major funding source.

My analysis-from-a-distance: The package had too much packed into it, was too large a sum ($7 billion) for these financially hurting times, and by trying to please both city-dwelling transit-lovers and suburban- and exurban-dwelling motorists it was vulnerable to pleasing neither. Note, also, that this vote was not only in Atlanta, but in all the state's metro regions. Other measures, crafted by elected officials in other regions, passed in three of seven regions: Augusta, Columbus and a central-south Georgia region. Note, also, that voters inside the restrictive-annexation-law-strangled city of Atlanta passed the measure. Was messy politics involved? You betcha.
This idea for regional transportation funding has been in the works for years. Here's a 2008 Neal Peirce column that describes some of the groups that pushed for it. Note, 2008 was a good two years before the anti-tax, anti-government, anti-transit Tea Party overtook the Republican Party. Add that political influence to the generally bad economic climate in the Atlanta area, and you have a problem. The Sierra Club and NAACP opposition did not help.

What happens next?

My guess is that the region's civic leaders won't give up and will, after a long and restful vacation, try to figure out how to pay for important needs. After all, here's what Sam Williams, president of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said in 2008: “Failure to invest [in transportation] would spell economic disaster for Georgia.”

But for now, it must be terribly disheartening for those people who have tried for so many years to find a solution to the problems Atlanta faces with transportation.


Anonymous said...

T-SPLOST failed for a number of reasons, but the two biggest were (1) mistrust of Georgia politicians and bureaucrats to do anything but squander, mismanage, and generally waste the tax revenue, and (2) lack of a coherent, unified plan to address transportation/traffic problems.

The projects that went into the lists were compiled individually from cities and counties, and then assembled into a financially-feasible package. What that resulted in was a list of projects that "spread the wealth around" to all counties in each T-SPLOST region rather than being a targeted series of improvements that would address congestion for an overall corridor or area. Yes, individual projects may have some congestion relief benefits in localized areas, but nothing comprehensive would be addressed.

People will vote to tax themselves if they feel that they will get value and performance out of their taxes (see York County's two successful Pennies for Progress sales tax referenda). But when they feel that their money will be used randomly with no coherent vision by a corrupt bunch of politicians in smoky back rooms (regardless of whether that perception is correct or not), the T-SPLOST is doomed for failure.

What more can you say about an initiative when the Tea Party, the Sierra Club, AND the NAACP all oppose it?

Anonymous said...

I had to vote no. Why? Well, as you noted, we rank very low in per capita spending on such areas. This state, like a lot of the South, is so stuck in its Southern Strategy ways that it has made guv'ment so evil that spending is a no no and well the structure of the tax code reflects that. You don't change that with a sales tax and you shouldn't START with a regressive sales tax.

I'm for all a sales tax as a later measure to fill in funding gaps AFTER the state starts taxing in a rational progressive manner.
That's means the vast wealth in Buckhead, Alpharetta, and so many other areas, along with the companies who benefit so greatly from this state, actually SUPPORT the state.

Notice all of the state GOP leaders who refuse to tax that way and businesses who fight taxes are ALL lined up to support a regressive sales tax to begin paying for this. Insane.

Do I expect anything to change? Nope. I just hope I'm not in this state in a couple years.

I keep tabs on NC and your blog is one of those places I do so. For all of Charlotte's faults, and NC's, overall it's still ahead of GA on infrastructure and other areas. I do hope that Charlotte would be more pro-active to avoid being another Atlanta because it would be nice alternative.


Anonymous said...

How ironic that those who hate the new toll lanes in Atlanta the most were those very same voters who just gave GDOT no choice but to employ tolls as financing for more projects in the future.

Similarly in Charlotte, there are no new expressway projects planned (beyond those already under construction) without toll lanes. I-77, I-485, and even Independence Boulevard, all have tolls in their future.

consultant said...

I agree with most what has been said Mary.

Additional thoughts:

1) Had this entire proposal been for "roads", it might have passed.
2) The entire proposal was WAY TOO complicated and poorly communicated to the people. The communication program was a comic tragedy. Was it a 1 cent increase in the sales tax or a 1% increase in the sales tax?
3) This "plan" was designed to fail by a Republican Governor (Perdue) and Republican legislature. Even though a bit more than half of the money was targeted for transit projects, the Republicans didn't support this and therefore didn't support the plan as a whole

4) Finally, have we lost our collective minds. Regarding my 3rd point, when did start to think that allowing the "public" to vote on complicated as hell infrastructure issues was a wise thing?

When they laid out and started to build the interstate highway system, did they put that to a vote in each state? When they laid out municipal water systems, did people vote on where the pipes would go? What about our phone lines and those telephone poles? Did you or I vote on those?

We seem to have forgotten how to govern ourselves. Maybe we just don't care anymore.

By the way, with Peak Oil underway, no other major transit systems are going to get built in our country. If it's not underway right now, it's not going to happen.

consultant said...

Good follow up article:

Notice roads were "the" component in areas where tax won. Leaders in those areas also did a better sales job.

Last point: people in the five central metro Atlanta counties HATE GDOT.

Hate might be too mild a word.

If they had said GDOT would not have ANY involvement in the TSPLOST, it may have passed. That's how much we hate GDOT.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the nature of GA government plays into this. Taxes are demonized. They refuse to have a tax system that will pay for things and then they ask those who have least to pay a regressive tax, rather than change the income tax code. It doesn't matter, GA decided long ago its fate, long before this vote.


Elliott said...

@ Consultant:

"Peak oil?" What is this, 1971? "Peak oil" is overrated; not because oil can't peak, but because the doomsayers don't understand what oil "is." It's not some magical substance that can't be replaced. Sorry, but we aren't going back to the 1800s agrarian "fantasy."

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