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Monday, June 29, 2009

Atlanta tax hike: Profiles in cowardice

click to enlarge Jim Maddox, caught between naps
  • Jim Maddox, caught between naps

The Atlanta City Council voted today to raise property taxes by 3 mills, an outcome we'd been predicting for weeks. But the actual vote count — 8 to 7 — was closer than anyone expected it to be. Not because Council members believed the tax hike was a bad idea. Hell, with only one or two possible exceptions, even those who voted against it were privately praying it would pass.

No, the vote was so close because several of our Council members possess, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "the backbone of a chocolate eclair."

Exhibit A is Jim "40 Winks" Maddox, the self-proclaimed "Dean of the Council" because he's warmed a chair in City Hall for more than three long decades. Today, Maddox shocked his colleagues by voting against the tax hike and the $541 million budget. This is a guy who, two months ago, said publicaly that he didn't think Mayor Franklin's proposed 3-mill increase was big enough!

“I’m prepared to approve a tax increase to end the furloughs for all employees,” he announced at a budget hearing at the end of April.

But that was before he picked up three challengers for his beloved Council seat. So, today, without giving anyone a heads up, the lily-livered Maddox cravenly hung his colleagues out to dry.

The other 'no' votes came from likely sources — Clair Muller, Mary Norwood, Howard Shook and Lamar Willis — and a couple of unlikely ones — Kwanza Hall and Cleta Winslow. Shook's district is in Buckhead, ground-zero in the anti-tax movement, and Muller, Norwood and Willis are all running city-wide, meaning they need to win votes in Buckhead. Winslow, however, is reportedly sore at Franklin for closing Fire Station No. 7, while Hall likely chickened out when he realized the Mayor already had the eight votes she needed.

Arguably, the swing vote came from Ceasar Mitchell, who's running against Muller for Council president. Mitchell says he realizes a tax increase is risky in an election year, but argues it was the only responsible action to take for a city that had already cut its annual budget by $100 million over the past two years and was still facing a $56 million shortfall.

"If someone's going to vote 'no,' they should at least explain why or offer alternatives," he says. By voting to support the increase while some of his courage-deficient colleagues were running for political cover, Mitchell says he "took one for the team."

(Photo courtesy of City of Atlanta)

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