Surrounded by such dignitaries as Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, and other politicos, Reed thumbed his nose at recent polls showing the tax measure facing an uphill battle with voters.
"I don't know about you but I like politicians who are leaders," the mayor said. "Leaders don't read polls, they change polls... The people of Georgia tomorrow are going to make the decision to be in the future business. We're going to make the decision that treading water and just surviving is not enough. That's not who we are as a region and that's not who we are as Georgia. We didn't get to be the 10th largest state in the union and one of the fastest growing regions by being timid and playing scared."
Deal — who said that if people made all their judgments on polls, he wouldn't be standing in the Gold Dome today — noted that metro Atlantans mobility options would most likely not improve any time soon should voters reject the measure tomorrow.
"The traditional funding options have been unable to keep up with the growing need," he said. "Without this referendum, we simply don't have the resources to ensure that Georgia has an adequate transportation network in the years to come."
And waiting several years to restart the process of selecting projects wouldn't be wise, he said.
"I don't think the state of Georgia can afford the time to wait," Deal said. "The Charlottes and Houstons and other metro regions will be following this vote closely, if not closer, then us. That will be one more bullet in their belt to businesses who are thinking of expanding. 'Don't go to Atlanta. You won't get your employees to work in a timely fashion. You won't get raw materials in a timely fashion.'"
Members of the Transportation Leadership Coalition, a grassroots group fighting the tax, followed the well-attended pro-tax rally with its own, much-smaller press conference on the opposite side of the Gold Dome. Flanked by nearly 20 supporters, TLC Chairman Jack Staver blasted the tax as "another government stimulus program that won't help congestion" and "just another political scheme that leaves taxpayers holding the bag."
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, one of the most vocal anti-tax elected officials, used his time at the podium to critique Reed, the measure's biggest advocate and who, in the last few weeks, has become the face of the T-SPLOST. He chided the mayor, whom Brown said "is not the king of the 10-county region," for pushing to include the Atlanta Beltline on the project list rather than fighting for rail into South DeKalb County. He also said Reed wants Atlanta to become Portland, which must subsidize its rail system and still has congestion.
"He's not making bold decisions," said Brown said, who urged more investment in roads. "He's making bad decisions."
A Reed spokesman disagreed with those claims.
"The mayor specifically had $225 million allocated to DeKalb for a bus line," he said, adding that that DeKalb County is also receiving $700 million for a MARTA line between Lindbergh Center and Emory University. "And he feels confident that after this passes he can get the additional funding for rail. The CEO of DeKalb County is in favor of this. Many elected leaders in DeKalb County are in favor of this."
After the jump, more photos from today's dueling press conferences
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