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.
What should raise the eyebrows of people pushing the tax: the percentage of supporters has slipped - and opposition has grown - since Rosetta Stone last surveyed metro Atlanta voters in May. Reports WSB's Lori Geary:
Those numbers show a drop in support of the tax from late May when a Rosetta Stone poll showed 42 percent supported the referendum and 45 percent opposed the measure.
The poll broke down respondents by geographic area, as well. Not surprisingly, there's more support for the measure in Fulton and DeKalb Counties than there is in the outer 'burbs. Republicans, also not surprisingly, are opposed to the sales tax. (Geary's posted a handy breakdown of the poll results.)
While these polls give a good snapshot of how metro Atlantans might feel about the measure, tax supporters will say that the only poll that's worth a damn is the one that's conducted on July 31. The business community's team that's spending millions of dollars to persuade voters to approve the measure has purchased more TV airtime. You'll probably start seeing even more online ads or hearing radio spots. And you can bet there will be a last-minute, very expensive push by the group in the final days before the vote takes place.
Should voters approve the regional transportation tax on July 31, 15 percent of the revenues will be divvied up among local governments to spend on their local transit, sidewalk, bicycle, and road needs. And Fulton County officials want your help in decided how they should use that cash in unincorporated parts of the county.
Fulton officials will hold meetings next week and in mid-July to gather input about how to use its portion, which is estimated at $29 million over ten years (PDF). From the county:
* Tuesday, June 26, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. - Cliftondale Community Center, 4645 Butner Road, College Park
* Thursday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. - Burdett Park, 2945 Burdett Park, College Park
* Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. - Southwest Library, 3665 Southwest Library, Atlanta
* Thursday, July 12, 6:30 p.m. - 8: 30 p.m. - Renaissance Middle School, 7155 Hall Road, Fairburn
Atlanta officials earlier this month released the city's project list, which includes multi-use trails between parks and a plethora of streetscape improvements which would comply with Complete Streets guidelines.
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