The DeKalb County branch of the NAACP is telling voters that the July 31 referendum that could raise billions of dollars in new funding for roads and transit lines in metro Atlanta - and which the organization has been clear it opposes - is "racist."
For the last several weeks, the group has distributed fliers (PDF) listing seven reasons why voters should reject the 1-percent transportation tax, which it calls "unfair" and "racist."
In addition to correctly noting that residents of Fulton and DeKalb counties, who for 41 years have paid a sales tax to fund MARTA, would now pay more, the flier claims the measure would result in a state takeover of the transit agency and the subsequent "loss of jobs for blacks and others." In addition, it says "blacks are always under served [sic] and never get our fair share back of taxes paid."
"They charge us taxes and don't provide us any services for them," DeKalb NAACP President John Evans says, referring to the one-cent sales tax DeKalb residents pay to fund MARTA, in a phone interview. "They've never done right by us. We need our share."
He says the flier is part of the organization's strategy to push back against multi-million dollar ad campaigns launched by metro Atlanta business boosters - a "David and Goliath" scenario, Evans says - and ultimately convince voters to block the measure.
"This is a ground game," he says. "[We're] putting them in windshields, grocery stores, wherever we find people moving back and forth. We're going to get signs made up and hit street corners."
The organization, which has aligned with some tea party groups, vowed to defeat the measure after a "regional roundtable" of metro Atlanta elected officials opted not to include a long-awaited rail line along I-20 and into South DeKalb County on a list of projects that would be funded by the tax.
A $225 million bus rapid transit line that would serve the area and which could one day grow into a rail line was included as part of the nearly $6.14 billion list of projects. Evans says that project was "something to keep us off their backs" and insufficient compared to rail, which does a better job creating jobs.
Unless the first pennies of the tax pay for the desired rail line, Evans says, "you can count us out. We're going to do everything we can to kill it."
And they're "not buying" any talk of the BRT line eventually becoming rail or anything else "unless they come up with a contract guaranteeing they're going to do it and it's enforceable in a court of law."
(MARTA's board of directors recently OK'ed a construction proposal for the rail line, a move that the Saporta Report's David Pendered likened to throwing a wrench in the plans of the tax's opponents in South DeKalb County. It's also worth noting that the time to negotiate on what roads and transit lines wil receive funding from the tax ended when the regional roundtable adjourned last summer.)
Ashley Robbins of the Livable Communities Coalition's Fast Track Forward educational campaign called the flier's rhetoric "flat out wrong."
Threats of a state takeover of MARTA and unfair representation on the transit agency's board, she says via email, are just "scare tactics" and in response to proposed recent state legislation that failed to pass.
Robbins also dismisses the flier's claim that DeKalb "never had a chance" to secure funding for rail along I-20 when the regional roundtable selected road and transit projects. She says that Mayor Kasim Reed, a roundtable member, ensured that MARTA, Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties received their fair share of the revenue generated by the tax. In fact, she writes, Fulton and DeKalb counties are seeing "more of a return on their investment than any other county."
She adds: "What it really boils down to, and what no one is saying, is that DeKalb County was only going to receive so much money from the [transportation tax], because in all fairness, the roundtable wasn't going to allow one to receive more than its share."
DeKalb County, she says, proposed two big-ticket items - a rail line connecting Lindbergh and Emory University and the I-20 rail lines. The former won because it was "more shovel ready, serves a more dense area with larger employment centers, and could be built within the restriction of the ten years of the [tax]."
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