A few questions about T-SPLOST


I know some good people support the upcoming T-SPLOST vote, but I remain unconvinced. Since I am admittedly a mere novice on local transportation issues, I’ll tell you the questions that still trouble me, just in case someone can convincingly clear away my fog.

Why is more tax and more government always the answer? I am reflexively troubled when told we must create yet another level of government, a region of 10 metro Atlanta counties, to make decisions on spending a new sales tax of 1 percent on transportation projects.

What has existing government done for us so far? From gasoline sales the federal government takes 18.4 cents per gallon, of which 15.4 cents is earmarked for roads and 3 cents for mass transit. The state of Georgia collects 7.5 cents excise tax per gallon for transportation plus a motor fuel use tax Governor Deal recently froze at 12.1 cents, and let’s not forget Fayette County’s 6 percent sales tax.

I realize any amount of tax is never enough, but color me doubtful that more tax and a new layer of government is required to fix our roads and bridges.

Am I wrong to wonder if there is some ulterior motive, like shifting costs from Atlanta outward to surrounding commuter counties? Could this be an Atlanta-centric power-grab to centrally dictate how transportation monies are spent? I would much prefer to have motives on the table where I can see them clearly.

Like most people, I don’t like being played, and that’s how I read pro-T-SPLOST advertising. Does it trouble anyone else that the T-SPLOST is promoted as a penny tax? A penny sounds like just about nothing, how could anyone object to a penny? But adding a penny to the existing 6 percent sales tax in Fayette County amounts to a 16.67 percent sales tax increase. That’s more serious, isn’t it?

“Untie Atlanta” is a clever billboard phrase promoting the T-SPLOST, an anagram, I suppose, on “Unite Atlanta.” But that phrase implies T-SPLOST projects will prevent traffic jams during rush hour. Really? Why do I question whether the scheduled projects will make much difference at all in commute times?

Maybe it’s because moving millions of drivers twice a day long distances from Fayette County to Atlanta, or from Atlanta to Alpharetta, is going to involve a certain amount of frustrating road time no matter what road solutions are implemented. Am I overly cynical to re-characterize advertised commuting improvement as much ado about not much?

Have you noticed the T-SPLOST promoters ask whether you are concerned about transportation issues, a seeming trick question that answers itself and tees up T-SPLOST as the solution, as if this new layer of taxing authority is the salvation for your concerns?

Do you really believe the plan will resolve commuting problems, or do you know instinctively, as I do, that transporting millions every day in a wide local area will always be problematic, and that T-SPLOST projects might make things marginally better but nothing more?

Is it unfair of me to say T-SPLOST reminds me of a drug dealer handing out free samples to create permanent co-dependents? Forgive my dim view of bureaucrats, and mixing metaphors, but I would bet this first little 10-year taste will be like the fly discovering the spider web is so sticky there is no hope of escape.

Have you noticed I haven’t yet mentioned MARTA, the T-SPLOST elephant in the room, the 52 percent of planned revenue allocation, rarely mentioned in T-SPLOST promotion. While less than 5 percent of commuters use MARTA, over half the T-SPLOST funding is designated for transit projects. Take a few seconds to read that again.

A good transit system can be a blessing if commuter residences are sufficiently dense at the source point, and if job destinations are sufficiently concentrated at the target point, like in New York. In Georgia, of course, they are spread out on both ends, making transit a perpetual struggle to move the poor, not the commuting masses.

I said a “good” transit system, which I think leaves MARTA out anyway, since they have bungled operations and are billions in the red, despite subsidies, and hoping for a bailout. MARTA can’t even keep crime off the trains and buses or out of the stations or parking lots. Whether you want to ride MARTA or not, do you want to bail them out? Neither do I.

But a T-SPLOST hidden agenda to bail them out and promote MARTA expansion is just too far-fetched, anyway, isn’t it? I probably should forget the long-stated goals of some Atlanta officials to spread the cost of MARTA throughout the region, stating their belief it is unfair for central Atlanta to bear the cost.

Am I paranoid to suspect that T-SPLOST is the back-door means of permanently shifting part of the cost of MARTA to Fayette County? Is it too cynical to wonder if T-SPLOST dedicates 52 percent of the revenue to transit in a stealthy long-term “green” maneuver to expand the system, hoping to diminish the number of cars on the road?

Somehow I feel like I’m watching MARTA shells being moved quickly in a blur to conceal which one hides a pea.

If T-SPLOST is a means to letting the MARTA genie out of the bottle in Fayette County, whether to spread the cost or expand here or both, what are the chances we would ever be able to wrestle that genie back into the bottle and walk away with no MARTA entanglements? Just asking if that door is revolving or one-way?

I am told it should not matter to me that over half the T-SPLOST funds go to MARTA since Fayette County will receive back nearly all of its contribution in funding and scheduled projects, so other counties will contribute our share to transit. Is that a gambit to nudge us over the threshold in a marriage without a divorce option, or is my skepticism out of control? If we are a “receiver” county early on, do you wonder when and by how much we will become the “donor” county?

Does it bother you, too, that a regional committee, in which Fayette County has little influence since we have a mere 2.6 percent of the region’s voters, has the power to divvy up the pot into which Fayette County will be pouring lots of money?

I prefer that we in Fayette County pay our own way, keep our sovereignty and control our own money in the bargain. I’m naive, aren’t I?

How many of you believe the listed projects will actually be carried out as scheduled, remain on budget and be completed in the allotted 10 years, even with the “citizen panel” planned for project oversight? Maybe I’m not the only one with doubts.

Are the listed transportation projects good things for Georgia communities? I believe they are. But are they so good we must surrender ourselves to a regional commission on which we have little leverage? Are we to genuflect in gratitude and obedience to receive back from the commission a portion of the funds we contributed, our own money granted with conditions in a fashion disturbingly like the state’s relationship to the federal government?

As I understand it, the T-SPLOST tax and commission has a life of 10 years and no more, even though the projections indicate only part of the intended transit projects can be funded within those limits.

With the betrayal of the sunsetting Georgia 400 toll plaza fresh in our mind, am I too much of a curmudgeon to take a dim view of the promised end to this enterprise? Am I overly pessimistic to forecast that walking away from this regional obligation in 10 years to regain control over our own money will be very difficult?

Is it really necessary to create another level of government to get Fayette County projects done? Am I foolish in thinking perhaps we could keep control of our own county’s destiny, vote for or against our own county T-SPLOST, control our own money and work with other localities to get difficult projects done, like the 74/85 interchange outside our county but key to our commuters?

This July 31 vote will take place no matter how many questions I ask. Even if Fayette County disapproves, if the region as a whole does approve, we are locked in to be part of this regional process because, well, they need our money. Doesn’t that alone tell you all you need to know, or am I just gun-shy?

For me, there are way too many troublesome questions to support the T-SPLOST even without the alarming transit issues. With transit added, and multiplied since it is the majority player, I don’t think there is enough lipstick in Georgia to disguise this pig.

At least not for a grumpy old man like me, having been burned too many times by the pretty silk purse promises of government that usually turn into sows’ ears. But I’m still willing to listen.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]