Mike Klein Online

Will Voters Exercise Their Option on Transportation Sales Tax?

Days immediately following the World Series are nearly as exciting to me as who won Series games because teams begin to play the contract options game with borderline players.  Here’s how the game works.  They like the player and decide he stays another season.  Or they don’t like the player and they kick him down the road.

This year teams began to exercise or decline contract options on Tuesday.  That was the same day Georgia voters declined their option to impose a new statewide tax to fund expanded trauma care.  Expanded trauma care is a good idea.  But new taxes are not such a popular idea so voters kicked the idea down the road.

The next option Georgia voters will have to impose taxes on themselves will be in August 2012.   They will decide whether to raise local sales taxes by 1% to finance new local transportation projects. House Bill 277 divided the state into twelve regions, each one unique in its own way.  T-SPLOST success will to some degree determine the long-term economic survival of those regions.

There are significant differences between the trauma care vote that failed and the T-SPLOST initiative.  Most folks seldom envision themselves or their loves ones requiring trauma care but nearly everyone has experienced commuter gridlock, especially in Atlanta metro.

The second significant difference is that trauma care funding advocates had just several months to plead their case. The make-the-case window opens considerably wider for the transportation sales tax.

It’s going to be all about building the case.  Friday morning I discussed T-SPLOST with four leaders who attended the Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual State of the Region breakfast.

Tad Leithead, Chair, Atlanta Regional Commission:

“That referendum is going to be a key moment in the history of this region when we ask our citizens to invest their own tax dollars in vastly needed improvements,” Leithead told 900 guests who gathered at the Hyatt Hotel downtown. Later we spoke in the hallway and he added these ideas:

“The fact the referendum is in August 2012 gives us time to get information to voters so they understand what the project list is, they understand what the outcomes will be if they vote in favor of this thing, so they have a reason to vote yes on what is essentially an increase in their taxes.  Our polling shows people will spend the money if they believe it will make a difference in their commute, in traffic.”

Sam Olens, Attorney General-Elect

“It’s more important in a bad economy to assure the public that they (will) get great value for that dollar or it is dead on arrival.  The vote Tuesday re-confirmed what many people thought.  Folks are tired of government asking for money for money’s sake. If government tries to use a bunch of the money in this T-SPLOST for street scapes or niceties, once again, it’s dead on arrival.  They want to see congestion relieved.  While there’s a vocal minority that wants sidewalks and street scapes, the typical voter wants reduced traffic congestion.”  Olens is immediate past chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission and also the Cobb County Commission.

Sam Williams, President, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce:

Like the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metro Chamber will be highly visible in T-SPLOST diplomacy  through summer 2012.   Williams said experience shows public hearings and input made a difference when Denver, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other cities asked voters to approve T-SPLOST funding.

“The trauma care bill passed in April and it (was) on the ballot now compared to the transportation vote referendum where we’ve got a year and a half to two years.  There’s going to be a huge amount of time to educate people.  We’re so early. There’s going to be a lot of debate, as it should be, about how should this regional sales tax be spent?  What’s the balance between roads and transit and other forms of light rail?  That’s going to be a very good, healthy debate.”

Susan Mendheim, President and CEO, Midtown Alliance

Education is huge. The question is how you reach the general public who has to make the decision about whether the tax they might be asked to pay will go to services that might make their lives better.  We are pleased to be part of an effort made up of diverse organization from around the region and spearheaded by the Chamber to educate the public around the merits of the transportation bill.

“This group seems to be moving in the right direction to galvanize the region around supporting the bill. The group has sought out advice from consultants that have been instrumental in passing similar bills in other cities. They know how to communicate and know how to use technologies that are available today that will reach the voters.

“At the end of the day, our elected officials have to listen and appreciate where one another are coming from with the idea that their decisions must consider the larger regional agenda and not just their own community’s interest. That’s often a tough call for everyone.”

Footnote:

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation commentary website (www.georgiapolicy.org) has a significant transportation policy section.  Other resources include the Metro Atlanta Chamber (www.metroatlantachamber.com) and Atlanta Regional Commission (www.atlantaregional.com).

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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November 5, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,

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