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
The environmental group and arguably the state's most active tea party movement have become unlikely allies and worked together in the last few months to defeat the measure. Today at the Gold Dome the two organizations' leaders stood side-by-side and unveiled their list of demands.
"Although the Sierra Club and the tea party will never agree on everything, we can find common ground," Colleen Kiernan, the eco-advocacy group's executive director.
Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots said elected officials who warn they won't revisit the transportation funding issue if the measure fails on July 31 shouldn't act like "spoiled brats" and instead try again. Dooley says she's already heard from a few state lawmakers, including state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, and state Sen. Renee Untermann, R-Buford, who promised to work quickly if voters reject the T-SPLOST.
Their demands, most of which would require state lawmakers' attention come January when the General Assembly convenes, include (thanks to Charlie at Peach Pundit for posting a digital version, as we only have a handout):
1) Discard the current three different taxes on motor fuel and enact a single motor fuel tax, based on the value of the commodity and allowed to rise and fall with price inflation, dedicated solely to funding transportation with a portion[a] of the motor fuel tax receipts available for “all transportation purposes,” including operating costs as well as capital and maintenance.
2) Allow any two or more local governments to create, and fully fund, transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens through referenda on local motor fuel or sales taxes, and other revenue sources.
a) Allow referenda to levy local fractional sales taxes and motor fuel taxes of less than one percent for local transportation funding purposes.
b) Leave decisions over specific allowable allocations of local transportation taxes and fees in control of the local governments and their agencies that administer them, free from State interference.
c) Allow combinations of local governments to form fiscal partnerships with GA DOT for sharing capital and/or operating costs of local transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens.
3) Before elected officials are given more money they need to show they can be trusted with what they have. As a first step toward transparency and accountability, DOT Board members should be elected at annual public meetings of Congressional District Legislative Caucuses in each Congressional District for open public election (no secret ballots) to one-year terms of service and review of transportation activities in the District.
4) Before MARTA is expanded, it should be brought up to date on maintenance and be restored to a reasonable level of service.
a) The Legislature should end its interference in MARTA budgets and resume an oversight role. Voters and elected officials where the MARTA tax is collected (Fulton, Dekalb and Atlanta) should decide how MARTA revenue should be spent.
b) The hotel/motel tax the City of Atlanta collects yearly should in some part go to MARTA or transportation needs, not to be used to build a new stadium for the Falcons.
c) Other options that should be considered include distance based user fares, charge for parking at MARTA lots, use part of the hotel/motel tax to help fund MARTA — even consider raising the tax to fund transportation needs.
Keep in mind that some of these proposals have been tried in the past under the Gold Dome and failed. Or that they could face political hurdles. Legislation similar to no. 2, for example, was proposed in the state Senate several years ago but failed by three votes in the session's final hours. Dedicating all the motor-fuel tax to transportation would likely mean cutting chunks from other parts of the budget, as some of its revenues fund public services. And whether Setzler and Untermann's support is enough to convince state lawmakers to revisit the divisive issue isn't certain.
Jim Galloway asked the duo an interesting question: If these are the items on which they agree, then what are their differences? Neill Herring, the Sierra Club's longtime lobbyist, said with a laugh that they "hadn't explored their differences yet." Dooley said people might be surprised to know that the tea party actually would be willing to support commuter rail in some instances, particularly if existing rail lines are used.
Dooley also said, as she told CL a few weeks ago, the tea party would consider supporting MARTA in its never-ending quest to lift state-imposed funding restrictions on the transit agency. (This is the part where we say the state contributes virtually nothing to MARTA's operations and maintenance.)
"The state has no skin in the game," she said today, calling it an issue of local control. "Why are they interfering?"
Worth mentioning: The two groups also have a friend in Ray Boyd, the Morgan County businessman and tea party member who bankrolled his own gubernatorial campaign — to the tune of $2 million — in 2010. Boyd told CL he's paid for yard signs and newspaper ads, among other campaign materials, to help the two organizations' defeat the T-SPLOST.
He declined to reveal how much he's contributed but did say the amount isn't "anything near" the sum that C.W. Matthews, a Cobb County-based road building company, donated to the business community's pro-tax, multi-million dollar campaign. Boyd did say, however, that he was on his way to the 'burbs later today to stick those anti-tax signs in front of commercial properties he owns.
And other people and companies you'd expect to support a tax that will lay more asphalt and transit lines.
You can peruse the list of contributors and expenditures by Citizens for Transportation Mobility, the business community's campaign to persuade voters to pass the 1-percent sales tax voters will decide on July 31. As well as a summary.
The group has raised $6.47 million so far and expects that amount to surpass $6.8 million. Among the names of contributors that stand out:
Georgia Power: $250,000
Yancey Brothers, a roadbuilding equipment company: $250,000
Georgia Highway Contractors Association, $250,000
C.W. Matthews, one of the state's most powerful roadbuilders: $200,000
National Association of Realtors: $185,000 (plus $31,000 in in-kind campaign data work)
Home Depot: $150,000
Vulcan Materials: $105,000
Jamestown, the developer behind Ponce City Market, which would be served by Atlanta Beltline transit if the referendum is approved: $100,000
Post Apartment Homes: $100,000
Newell Rubbermaid: $100,000
Wells Fargo: $50,000
PB Americas Inc.: $50,000
Troutman Sanders: $30,000
Waffle House: $25,000
Wolverton and Associates: $25,000
Stephens Rock and Dirt: $26,000
Selig Enterprises: $10,000
And that's just a sampling. Let us know who jumps out at ya.
Last night, Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the biggest boosters for the regional transportation tax voters will decide on July 31, and state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, one of the measure's biggest critics, sat down with WAGA's Russ Spencer to discuss the T-SPLOST. For 20 minutes. You know us, we love this stuff. The station's made the entire video available, which we've embedded above. A few takeaways from the polite discussion:
* Fort questioned whether the road and transit projects that would be funded by the T-SPLOST would really ease congestion. He also thinks that the process wasn't fair — and that African-American contractors would have a hard time building projects funded by the tax. "Fact of this matter is, 85 percent of this money is going to go through Nathan Deal and the state DOT, which has an abysmal record in using minority businesses." He noted that some industries were able to carve out an exemption to the tax. "They wanted grandmama to go to the grocery store and pay a pennies on their groceries that they didn't want to incur." If the T-SPLOST fails, Fort says, he pledges to sit down with the mayor the following day and start cobbling together a "plan that works." Fort wants the Sierra Club of Georgia, Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, DeKalb County and Georgia NAACP, all groups which oppose the measure, at the table. (To be fair, these groups weighed in with public comments during the roundtable process. It's not clear if Fort actually wants them to have a vote on a new project list.)
* The mayor said he doesn't "know what world my friend is living in." The transportation projects on the list would ease congestion, Reed said, and create the last-mile connectivity sorely needed to boost transit in Atlanta. He defended the entire year-plus process, which was "bipartisan" and "biracial." He stressed that top elected officials will not want to immediately revisit the divisive issue if the T-SPLOST fails. Even more important, the mayor says, the state and region have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Unemployment remains high and even higher in the African-American community. "What we've got to do is focus on where we are right now," the mayor said. "We are a region that was one of the most dynamic in the last 50 years... We have to make decisions that are not locked down in the present, not locked down in issues of race and class.... The nation is looking at our region." He also gives a tip of the hat to Millennials who want more transit.
Gov. Nathan Deal this morning announced that tolls on Ga. Hwy. 400, the notoriously clogged freeway linking Atlanta to the northern 'burbs, would end next December.
The surprise move reverses a decision made by the governor's predecessor, Sonny Perdue, who extended the 50-cent fees shortly before leaving office.
Perdue was roundly criticized for breaking a promise made to voters two decades ago to lift the tolls once the state paid off debt to build the project. The former governor instead extended the tolls until 2020 to fund additional improvements along the freeway, including a connector between the toll road and I-85.
A local citizen group recently delivered a petition and data to Deal that found the the state agency in charge of Ga. 400 could pay off the debt sooner.
Says the governor in a press release:
“Ga. 400 commuters have paid more than their fair share already, and this is the earliest we can bring it down without paying a penalty for early repayment of the bonds,” Deal said. “When the Ga. 400 toll went up, the state of Georgia promised commuters that it wasn’t forever. If we don’t keep that promise, we lose the faith of the people. We face many challenges when it comes to paying for new capacity, particularly in the Atlanta region. There are no easy answers, no secret pots of money, but it is imperative that governments build the trust of their people. As your governor, I will keep the promises I make to you.”
The Ga. 400 toll was originally scheduled to come down after 20 years, ending in 2011. In 2010 — after then-candidate Deal promised to end the toll the following year — the state issued new bonds tied to the toll revenue in order to pay for needed improvements in the Ga. 400 corridor, including a new connector to I-85. The $40 million in new bonds were issued Dec. 1, 2010, and they mature June 1, 2017. But at the three-year mark the state can repay the bonds without a penalty. Further, the state needs time to plan for physically bringing down the gates and the dramatic restructuring that will be needed in the toll area.
“As I have said many times before: I inherited a situation where we could not bring down the gates immediately, and we face a situation where we would have to pay a penalty for early repayment,” Deal said. “This timeline gives commuters a finish line, while still allowing us to meet our obligations. Moving forward, we’ll need to continue to work on long-term solutions to congestion in the 400 corridor. And I look forward to doing that in a transparent fashion that commuters can trust.”
The big question is whether the July 31 regional transportation tax referendum played any role in Deal's decision. Many voters I've met have pointed to the state's broken promise on the Ga. 400 tolls as a major reason why they don't trust the government to spend the tax revenues. Now that the toll's been lifted, how much do you think this move helps the T-SPLOST's chances?
Those results, however reliable they might or might not be, have surely brought smiles to the faces of T-SPLOST foes. They've made clear that tax supporters, including the business community's multi-million dollar PR campaign, have their work cut out if they want to avoid watching the measure go down in flames.
And that appears to be starting to happen. In the last two days, we've seen Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the measure's most vocal champions, take a much more aggressive posture in defending the tax he personally lobbied for under the Gold Dome in 2010. Though always a T-SPLOST champion, it's now, in the crucial final stretch of a campaign when more voters take notice, that Reed's seriously speaking out to pass the measure.
First, the mayor's office on Monday gave the OK for his senior transportation policy adviser to respond to longtime business columnist Maria Saporta. Saporta, in a column posted hours earlier, partly blamed the mayor and DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis for some of the transportation tax's difficulties finding support with African-American voters. "Ms. Saporta’s column is simply the latest attempt to throw stones at an effort that would create jobs, keep our region competitive and safeguard Atlanta’s position as the leading city in the Southeast," wrote Tom Weyandt.
A few hours later, after 11 Alive published a poll showing low support for the transportation-tax measure, the mayor's office released to the station a more favorable, internal poll commissioned by the business community's campaign to pass the T-SPLOST. That survey, originally not for public consumption, found that support for the tax was within the margin of error of a dead tie.
Yesterday morning, Reed stood at City Hall alongside members of the Atlanta Business League, one of the city's oldest minority-owned business organizations, to announce the group's endorsement, address the haters, and reaffirm his support for the tax. He challenged opponent Reporteth Jeremiah McWilliams, City Hall habitue:
"Take it from somebody who knows how to win," Reed said. "You have to excuse me for not being nervous when [the polls say] we're behind. It was always going to be close."
In the same speech, Reed pleaded for help from the overwhelmingly African-American crowd, citing a double-digit jobless rate among local African-Americans. He said the T-SPLOST needs the support of minority business people in Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, which have promised to incorporate small, minority and women-owned firms in their procurements. He urged the crowd to text, tweet, call friends and publicize their support on Facebook.
"I need you all," Reed said.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, one of the T-SPLOST's most vocal opponents, noted in a press statement released after the ABL's endorsement that African-American-owned businesses in Georgia have had little success landing transportation contracts in the last two-and-a-half years. "For state GDOT contracts, African-American companies received 1.1 percent," Fort said. "The 'good old boy' system of doing business is alive and well in Georgia." This followed a two-church tour on Sunday to discuss his opposition to the referendum.
Afterward the mayor sat down with Jim Galloway, telling him the tax's passage would send a message to Georgia's competitors and the nation that, along with improving our water supply, the dredging of the Savannah Port, and the new international airport terminal, the state's tackling transportation. Later that evening he followed it up with a visit to 11 Alive's studios to discuss the tax. By many accounts, the mayor does not sleep, so he probably then sat down for a live interview via satellite with Chinese TV reporters to discuss the tax.
Reed's a political machine and is fascinating to watch because he genuinely seems to love campaigning. He's competitive, well-versed in the art of messaging, and relishes debate. ("I believe in the Winston Churchill model," he said at the ABL event. "I smile when I fight. I love to fight.") Whether his vocal support and dogged work ethic is able to convince the "nays" and win over the undecideds less than two weeks before the vote remains to be seen. But it's gonna make this final stretch much more interesting to watch.
I don't own a car. In fact, I'm among the 26 percent of America's 14- to 34-year-olds who don't even have a driver's license, a number that has increased from 21 percent in recent years.
I take transit everywhere, or walk. And I'm not alone: There are hundreds of thousands of "Millennials," as our age group is called, in metro Atlanta with commuting preferences distinctly different from our parents'. When metro leaders are considering long-range transportation planning, such as the July 31 transportation vote, they ought to keep us in mind. Because if they fail to create a metro Atlanta where there are transportation options — bus, rail, bike paths and pedestrian access as well as roads — we Millennials will take our education and skills and talents to create jobs and businesses elsewhere.
Many Baby Boomers and older Atlantans are opposing this transportation referendum because it does not do enough for them. They've forgotten, conveniently, that their parents paid taxes to build a transportation system that has driven their prosperity — and it is their obligation to do the same next generations. It's as if they are stuck in time. They argue that the BeltLine is a boondoggle, oblivious that it is exactly the kind of transportation Millennials want and will demand.
John Sherman of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association recently argued that the project list has too much transit, stating again that only 5 percent of commuters in the region use transit. But Sherman seems blind to the preferences of a younger generation that will benefit most from these projects. He ignores that the average number of vehicle miles traveled by 16- to 34-year-olds dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to the National Household Travel Survey.
He seems unaware that the number of miles traveled by transit has increased 40 percent among our age group. While we don't expect for Sherman, an octogenarian, to be attuned to our commuting preferences, we expect for leaders to think and act and invest long-term. And considering the years it takes to build transportation projects, long-range is the only way we should be planning.
We see the same shortsightedness of our parents' and grandparents' generation when they complain that the tax may not sunset in 10 years as promised, or that some of the projects may not be finished in 10 years. Again, they're thinking about themselves, and not about their children. In 10 years, today's eight-year-olds will be able to vote on whether they'd like to extend this referendum to incorporate their transportation needs.
Past generations of Americans made investments for the nation's future prosperity. Unfortunately, many of today's T-SPLOST opponents are thinking only of themselves, with little to no regard for the future. "Another tax won't help YOUR traffic jam," says the tag line on Traffic Truth, a site opposed to the transportation referendum. They're all about "me" and "mine." It is emblematic of the collective national mindset that saddled future generations with trillions of dollars in debt: A mindset that says let's focus on US, and let future generations pay for it.
It's time for the John Sherman and the Baby Boomer generation to engage in a little forward-looking, and by doing so maybe they can see why the Beltline is important, why transit is important, and why the July 31 regional transportation referendum is a balance of transportation improvements that helps everyone now and into the future.
The poll, conducted July 11, found only 33 percent of metro Atlantans support the referendum while 56 percent oppose the measure. Twelve percent remain undecided. [...]
A majority of black voters no longer support the measure for the first time. Pollster John Garst said opposition from state Sen. Vincent Fort and other community leaders has hurt the TSPLOST in more urban areas. Opposition has grown among Republicans since the last poll on June 29, while support among Democrats has almost dropped below 50 percent as well.
A spokeswoman for Citizens for Transportation Mobility, the business community's well-funded campaign to persuade voters to approve the tax, tells CL the team's beefing up its get-out-the-vote efforts:
All elections are about turnout and we have a strategic effort underway to broaden the July 31 primary turnout. Our polling shows that people in metro Atlanta are sick of having their lives revolve around traffic. They agree that we can longer continue to ignore our traffic problem and are ready to embrace transportation options and choices. We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to get out the vote. The messages of less traffic, more jobs and a stronger economy are resonating with people.
We are targeting commuters, transit riders and targeted demographic groups that deal with our notorious bottlenecks on a daily basis. Just today, we launched new ads including one from Ambassador Andy Young. This referendum is an Olympic moment for metro Atlanta. We believe the voters of this region are ready to step up and vote yes.
Here's one of those new ads, a TV spot which started airing today. Campaign officials have dropped the animations of traffic knots and are now targeting that valuable people-with-killer-cars-who-miss-their-kids'-baseball-games demographic:
Guests include: Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, who will represent the Transportation Leadership Coalition, an anti-tax organization; Jeff Dickerson of Citizens for Transportation Mobility, the business community's campaign to persuade voters to approve the T-SPLOST; and Jane Hayse of the Atlanta Regional Commission. WABE's Charles Edwards, who I once told he had the "Voice of God," will moderate the event.
We and other transit advocates have given Citizens for Transportation Mobility, the business community's multi-million dollar campaign to persuade voters to pass the regional transportation tax on July 31, a hard time because its ads feature mostly cars. (Yes, you can see a bus and rail line in the TV spot currently airing that features a twisted knot of roads which slowly unravel to reveal the shining downtown and Midtown skyline. But for the most part, it seemed the ads spoke only to motorists.)
So they've produced a web video to remind us that, yes, they do care about rail lines and buses. We kindly yield the floor to our readers for their takes on the clip, as we are in need of caffeine.
The Transportation Leadership Coalition, one of the groups fighting the 1-cent sales tax, has hired an attorney to ask Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp about the addition of language to the T-SPLOST ballot question. Pitts Carr, the attorney, has also requested documents related to the ballot issue. From the group:
TLC recently uncovered that promotional language, in addition to the ballot question provided by the legislature, was added to Georgia's official ballot to encourage passage of Referendum 1, the T-SPLOST sales tax increase for road and transit projects. The Secretary of State took responsibility for the language and the unprecedented act of modifying the ballot with no apparent legal authority.
Today's formal inquiry from attorney Carr directs Secretary of State Brian Kemp to cite the legal authority for adding the language "Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight."
And finally, the honchos of metro Atlanta's biggest sports groups - we're talking the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Braves, Falcons, and Dream - gathered yesterday at the Metro Chamber's downtown officers to endorse the 1-cent sales tax. Yes, the mascots were also in attendance, which means these folks are serious.
You "implore him to help". Um, that's exactly what he just did and you trashed…
To be clear that parking lot is already there, they're just hoping they can build…
As someone who works with human behavior as a profession... pls note every act is…
is someone who works with human behavior on a regular basis it's important to note…
"Dan Cathy Why not go under Northside Drive, and build a great plaza extending the…
@wesleywhatwhat: Far from a "pointless bitchfest," this editorial applauds Cathy's initiative and implores him to…