I have a few thoughts to add to my column last week on T-SPLOST.
Sunday morning provides a number of TV choices for political updates. One of those is The Georgia Gang, a roundtable discussion of local issues among four regulars, two conservatives and two liberals.
As you might predict, T-SPLOST is an escalating topic on this show as the July 31 vote approaches, and one of the liberals, Jeff Dickerson, is a constant and strong advocate of T-SPLOST.
In a disappointing lapse of integrity, Dickerson never discloses that he is a paid T-SPLOST lobbyist. Dick Williams, the show’s host, does point it out now and then in his counter-point since Dickerson doesn’t have the character to make his own disclosure. But I am working toward a different point.
Dickerson, who is always armed with a ton of T-SPLOST talking points, let the cat out of the bag Sunday in his fervent argument.
Out of frustration with reluctant voters, in a heated moment Dickerson said that the transportation project backlog in the 10-county area is a whopping $66 billion, and that the tiny $7-8 billion T-SPLOST we will vote on July 31 is only the first step and we must get started now!
If we don’t, Dickerson says, then Atlanta is going to lose large employers to competing cities like Dallas and Charlotte as they move away to flee traffic congestion.
Really? If Chicken Little were available to help promote T-SPLOST, I’m not sure his clucking about doom on the horizon would add anything to the caterwauling we already hear.
The talking heads on The Georgia Gang are all Atlanta-centric, and none of them countered that if any of these fine companies do move out of Atlanta, they might move to Alpharetta or Carrolton, or maybe even Fayette County on the south side where traffic isn’t quite so congested.
Well, the now bagless cat confirmed what many of us suspected. Like many of you, I fear that T-SPLOST is far more than a 10-year 16.67 percent sales tax increase in Fayette County, that once we start down that slippery slope of partnership with Atlanta and the other counties, there will be no turning back even after 10 years.
But I thank Dickerson for disclosing the $66 billion estimate being pondered behind closed doors. That’s a pretty long, even if slippery, slope to ride, especially since the traffic problem is focused north, not south of Atlanta.
Maybe I’m the skunk at the garden party, but I think maybe companies considering their escape from Atlanta might be considering factors other than the marginal, immeasurable difference this T-SPLOST will actually make to employee commute time or truck delivery times.
They might be thinking about a bloated and ineffective city government. They could be searching for a work force that focuses at least as much on education and work ethic as it does on diversity. They may be concerned about safety in a high-crime city where thugs prey even on Georgia Tech students scurrying between classes and trying not to be robbed of their iPads.
Maybe some of those businesses are weary of a dysfunctional city that launches boondoggles like the new Peachtree Street trolley project, the one they scrambled to throw together to qualify for “Obama-bucks” stimulus money so that farmers in Nebraska can help pay for this new toy.
You would never know these are hard times considering the Atlanta city budget setting aside $90 million to create this retro rail trolly line with overhead power lines, running 2.6 miles and 12 stops.
I wonder how the city of Atlanta plans to keep these over-priced trolleys attractive to tourists and free of the same armed thugs who accost MARTA passengers and Georgia Tech students? I wonder how much just continuing to use buses would save, anyway?
I’m no expert on bus vs. rail, but I can do math and am told the MARTA rail line proposed from Lindbergh Station to Emory University and the CDC is 4.5 miles with an estimated cost of $700 million to build, never mind operations and maintenance.
That works out to $155.6 million per mile, about 60 times the $2 to $3 million per mile to create a bus system.
Am I the only one that sees the inherent advantage of the flexibility of something on wheels that can go wherever the steering wheel turns? Does anyone at MARTA notice their ridership is declining? Can nobody at MARTA use a calculator?
Despite the dishonest way it seems T-SPLOST is being advertised, I am not bothered as some are that T-SPLOST advocates are spending $8 million to promote a YES vote. That is private money contributed by corporations and groups that have an interest at stake, and there is nothing wrong with that.
I am bothered, however, that well-known Atlanta companies have recently been criticized for “informing” their employees of the virtues of T-SPLOST in a way that smacks of coercing their YES vote. That goes too far in toeing the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce line, stretching ethical standards to the limit.
“What would YOU do?” is Dickerson’s challenge to T-SPLOST doubters. Well, now that voters are paying attention, I would start by voting NO to this turkey on July 31, then be prepared to take another, more sober and rational, look at regional transportation issues.
I would start by separating transit and roads, letting each stand or fail on their own merits. I would allow each county to opt in or out as their voters choose.
Those are just for starters on plan B, but I’m only one voter and I don’t expect anyone in authority will listen to me.
Personally, even if the regional authorities were to stretch disbelief and retool as I suggest, I think we in Fayette County should come to agreement on whether we want to be partners in paying for transportation issues in Atlanta and northward.
Whether that answer is yes or no, there are arguments on both sides and they should be thoroughly aired. In a perfect world.
If the T-SPLOST vote fails, promoters should at least learn this one thing. When you push the hard sell and try to cram T-SPLOST through, you are only tipping your hand that something in the plan doesn’t bear up under close scrutiny, and you are setting aflame voter mistrust that, with very good reasons, always lies just beneath the surface.
On the July 31 T-SPLOST vote, that mistrust is very well placed.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]