The Cost of No TSPLOST

Last week’s defeat of the TSPLOST in all but three regions of Georgia brought to mind lots of adjectives: resounding, final, overwhelming, crushing, and, possibly most appropriate (cont.)

Last week’s defeat of the TSPLOST in all but three regions of Georgia brought to mind lots of adjectives: resounding, final, overwhelming, crushing, and, possibly most appropriate, inevitable. Putting a complex, multi-part, and long term list of projects on the ballot for voters to digest, research, and then vote on is not something that Georgia has ever done before.

Unlike California, where referenda on budget and taxing policy issues are common, such votes are rare down here in the Peach State. Add to that the climate of extreme distrust in government that permeates base voters in both parties (who makes up the lion’s share of primary voters) and this perfect storm could be seen coming from miles away.

However, the result leaves us very little wiggle room, politically or practically, for a “Plan B”. Folks who think a defeat of the TSPLOST would mean coming back with a roads-only list, a transit-only list, or some other list don’t understand political reality. Folks hoping for a motor fuel tax increase or something similar will also be disappointed to learn the ball just ain’t gonna bounce that that way. There’s no political will to do that, in either party or in either chamber.

A defeat in every county in metro Atlanta and an overall 63% no vote in our region does not create the type of political environment to attempt the same idea again. Especially not with the Tea Party claiming most of the responsibility for the defeat.

At this point, the short priority list of the GA400/285, Spaghetti Junction interchanges, and the deepening of the port in Savannah represents the top three priorities to get done with funds available. It’s the governor’s job to lead on this, which I am happy to see Governor Deal accept, unlike former Governor Perdue. I look forward to helping in any way possible to see that these three projects get top funding priorities.

That said, we do need to find a way to move forward that represents more than “triaging” the problems of traffic and transit. For Atlanta and Georgia to remain regionally, nationally, and globally competitive in job creation and retention, we have to come up with a solution that will work and we must embark on a sustained education effort to explain to constituents why it’s needed.

Navel gazing about why this TSPLOST vote failed in metro Atlanta doesn’t move us forward. In the middle of the recrimination popping up about the failure of the campaign, we’re still faced with long commute times, decaying infrastructure, and an overburdened, under-diversified transit system.

The facts still haven’t changed. Stopping the tax did not move Atlanta forward. It’s just delaying our progress while other cities in the nation move on with their own development plans. The cost of no TSPLOST isn’t just that nothing changes about congestion and transit, or worse, that both continue to deteriorate.

It’s the perception nationally that Georgians aren’t interested or willing to compete in a global economy by investing in our infrastructure. This can be seen in the “credit negative” that Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, gave Atlanta the weekend after the TSPLOST failed. You have to either be growing or dying, and we aren’t growing.

However, there is a silver lining to this decisive rejection: voters know their “No” vote doesn’t mean “Never” to transportation investment. Now, political leaders need to react accordingly. This will elevate the discussion back to policy circles where, unlike referendums, emotional arguments have less sway. We have to educate ourselves and our constituents.

Gwinnett has had the experience of having both a TAD referendum and an ESPLOST referendum rejected, only to come back after making the case to voters, not for 8 weeks, but for two years, in the case of our TAD vote. Ultimately, both were approved by the voters at later dates. Politicians, community leaders, and activists need to start now, building that educated consensus in the middle so that whatever comes next, even if that’s years away, is something that voters trust will work and therefore support, despite living in these hyper partisan times.

Reprinted from State Senator Curt Thompson's (D-5th) blog. Also, check the Senator out on Facebook and Twitter.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg August 11, 2012 at 08:37 PM
We the people elected the politicians we hate and don't trust. Sadly, we've gotten exactly the type of representation we deserve.
ACC-SEC Booster August 11, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Bob Martell 12:32 pm on Thursday, August 9, 2012 Amen. Right on, brother.
ACC-SEC Booster August 11, 2012 at 11:27 PM
The common sense plan and the common bond would be for the state to do its job and provide the leadership that the Georgia Constitution requires it to provide in keeping the transportation network that it is responsible for functioning. Critical transportation projects like long-overdue reconstructions of way-overcapacity freeway interchanges, regional express commuter bus service and regional commuter rail service on the existing freight rail right-of-ways that the state already owns and maintains shouldn't be placed in a tax-referendum full of porkbarrel spending as if they completely optional projects, especially when there has been an identified pressing need for the interchange reconstructions and increased regional commuter bus and rail service for more than two decades. The state should be in the active process of finding a way to finance those critical transportation infrastructure projects in the right-of-ways that it is responsible for overseeing (the Interstates, GA 400, the freight rail right-of-ways, etc) while leaving the funding of local economic development projects (the Atlanta Beltline, Intown streetcars, runway towers and lights in Cobb, etc) to the local governmental jurisdictions in which they lie and leaving porkbarrel spending out of the process completely. In a metro region and major population center of 6 million people, transportation infrastructure is not an option, but is a necessity and should be treated as such.
Jimmy Orr August 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Bob Martell (08/09/2012) & ACC-SEC Booster (08/11/2012) have two excellent posts on this article. Both are articulate and were well thought out. I surmise that Bob, as I did in the article I wrote for the Dacula Patch in 2011, recognized early on that the 2010 TIA would have created additional layers of bureaucracy within an already bloated state government. In ACC-SEC Booster's post it is ironic that he mentions pork barrel spending. There is a front page article in today's (Sunday, 08/12/2012) The Atlanta Journal Constitution entitled: "Spending by Beltline staff under scrutiny." Yes, the TSPLOST that went before the voters on July 31, 2012, was full of pork barrel projects. Those projects were among many reasons why TSPLOST became TSPLAT. Bob & Booster, appreciated your articles. Both were, as the young folks would say, "Right On!"
ACC-SEC Booster August 13, 2012 at 06:23 AM
And "Right On!" to you too as well, Mr. Orr.


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