On July 31, metro Atlantans will vote to decide whether to tax themselves an extra penny to pay for long-overdue new roads and transit lines, including Beltline rail, a new MARTA line between Lindbergh and Emory University, and a smorgasbord of roads. If approved, the $7 billion program might finally help metro Atlanta deal with its spec-fucking-tacular transportation crisis.
Convincing voters will be no easy task. The proposal must pass muster with suburban Republicans who never ride transit and intowners who grimace at the idea of paying for OTP roads. There's an additional sales job needed for Fulton and DeKalb residents weary from decades of paying an extra penny in sales taxes to fund MARTA. And did we mention the tax-adverse Tea Party, which has already sworn to fight the measure?
Enter Paul Bennecke, a veteran political consultant hired to guide the Metro Chamber of Commerce's multimillion-dollar campaign to pass the regional transportation tax, or T-SPLOST. Along with co-consultant Kevin Ross, Bennecke will assist a team of pros — which could number more than 40 paid staffers and thousands of volunteers — who will craft the messaging, OK the advertisements, and decide the best way to educate the public about the list of transportation projects. (If the commercials suck, you'll know who to blame.)
This won't be the first time Bennecke's helped lead a massive campaign facing long odds. In 2002, the Chattanooga native helped herd thousands of volunteers across Georgia to send a relatively unknown GOP state senator named Sonny to the Governor's Mansion. Nor is it the first time the former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party crafted strategy or managed budgets. Before starting his own political consulting shop, he commuted from Cobb County to Washington, D.C., where he allocated more than $150 million on gubernatorial races as executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
The pressure is surely immense, as many elected officials and regional leaders have resigned to the fact there's "no Plan B" if the referendum fails. Bennecke thinks the effort will succeed and, come Aug. 1, regional leaders will wake up to good news.
"I've not met one person yet who doesn't believe we have a traffic crisis in metro Atlanta," he says. "That's significant to get unanimous consensus from folks that we have a serious problem and have to address it."