As we move into the final week before the July 31 election, we are bombarded hourly with messages telling us to vote yes for another penny sales tax for transportation.
The supporters of the proposed $8.5 billion transportation program have deep pockets. We may never really find out how much money they are spending to buy our votes because unlike candidates running for office, they don’t have to disclose who gave money, and how much.
In this Goliath and David campaign, the people urging a “No” vote are being drowned out because they lack the money to buy air time, purchase billboards, and get high-profile pundits and supporters to seduce the voters.
Still, their side is worthy of attention, especially here in south DeKalb County, where residents will pay not one, but two pennies on the dollar for transportation, and in return will get more bus stations and buses, instead of long-promised rail service to the Stonecrest area.
When it comes to public transit, DeKalb County voters have been ardent supporters. For 40 years our residents, along with Fulton County residents, have supported MARTA with a penny sales tax.
Together, both counties have invested more than $7.5 billion into MARTA.
In 2008, our Board of Commissioners voted to extend that penny sales tax for another 40 years, with very little protest from residents.
Development follows transit
It’s no secret that economic development follows transit improvements and that South DeKalb sorely needs a catalyst for development.
The 1.3 million-square-foot Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia is the largest mall left in unincorporated DeKalb County after the city of Dunwoody took the Perimeter area. It is struggling to attract and keep high-end merchants. Rail to the area would be a great boon, bringing more businesses and luring more people to shop and to visit the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area, which would spur more growth in the hotels and other hospitality amenities.
Just like Perimeter, rail to Stonecrest could spur companies to locate in the area because their employees would have an easy way to get to work. Residents of Newton and Rockdale counties could also get on the train there for trips to downtown and the airport.
All of our elected officials should be pushing to develop the Stonecrest area to help it grow and keep it vibrant.
Instead of depriving South DeKalb of rail service, smart leaders should have pushed also for a second rail line to Stone Mountain Park – the Southeast’s second-most-visited attraction after Disney World.
The current T-SPLOST referendum is not worthy of our support for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:
-- A tax on food: Because the sales tax applies to food, it will disproportionately impact the people who can least afford it – the poorest among us. Every time we buy a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs at the grocery store, we will be paying for somebody’s road.
-- Paying twice: Paying two pennies for transportation will hurt us financially. It will make DeKalb less attractive and less competitive with other metro counties that will have only a one-penny transportation tax. Purchasers of big-ticket items like automobiles and large appliances will buy them in counties with lower sales taxes.
-- Unknown governance: While great care was taken to list the 157 projects to be funded, we don’t know who will make the final decisions on how the T-SPLOST money will be spent. We know from experience that sales tax revenues are estimated. Sometimes the money doesn’t flow in as anticipated, and projects have to be re-prioritized.
Who will make those decisions? Will we have input into them, especially in light of talks that MARTA could be co-opted into something bigger and our representation on the MARTA board eliminated?
-- Who will get the jobs and the contracts? How many of the 200,000 jobs “to be saved and created” will be in DeKalb County? Will our companies and contractors get a slice of the $8.5 billion pie?
Make TIA fair and equitable
Proponents of the T-SPLOST referendum would have us believe that if it fails, it will be doomsday for Atlanta, but that’s not true.
The law actually provides for the process to be repeated in two years if it’s unsuccessful in its first outing. Failure at the ballot box will give planners the opportunity to go back and make the Transportation Investment Act fair and equitable.
Fixing the region’s transportation issue is important work and we should get it right – not only for ourselves but also for future generations. Atlanta will never really become a world-class city until it has a world-class transit system.
This plan doesn’t accomplish that.
Failure at the ballot box will also tell planners loudly that they should not walk all over the people who have supported transit for decades.
That is why you should vote “No” on the T-SPLOST. It is bad public policy.
Jennifer Parker is the editor and publisher of CrossRoadsNews. More election coverage:
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