Metro Atlantans voted 65 percent to 35 percent to defeat the Transportation Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (T-SPLOST).
More than 279,521 people voted no. The yes votes numbered 152,309 in the 10-county Atlanta area. DeKalb voters narrowly defeated the measure, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Statewide, similar T-SPLOST proposals met wide margins of defeat.
Opponents hailed the landslide no vote as a clear message that voters are tired of taxes and being left out of the process.
They said the vote offers an opportunity for the region to return to the table to craft a solid transportation plan that can fix the region’s traffic problems.
DeKalb NAACP president John Evans, who fought the plan from the start, said the people spoke loud and clear.
“People want to be part of a real plan for the betterment of the region,” he said. “What kind of system are we going to have? How much rail? We need to get input from everyone, not just elected officials. And when you have the right stuff, you can think about how you are going to pay for it.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who fought for the passage of the referendum, was visibly disappointed when he addressed supporters to acknowledge the defeat. He said he is not giving up.
“Tomorrow I am going to get up and work just as hard to change their minds,” he said.
Reed and Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, thanked the business community, which contributed $8 million for an aggressive media campaign to pass the referendum.
Williams said that coalition was a first for the region and that it would look to the future.
DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson said the large no vote means that we must return to the table.
“We have to go back and start over,” he said. “We have to do it the right way. When we were telling them that it wasn’t right, they wouldn’t listen. We just have to go back to the table and work it out.”
Johnson said that South DeKalb needs rail and that any new plan must include rail for the area.
The failed tax was expected to raise $8.5 billion to fund 157 projects across the 10-county metro area. The plan was immediately unpopular in DeKalb and Fulton counties, which would have paid two pennies in taxes while the other eight counties paid one.
Those two counties have been paying a penny tax to support MARTA for 40 years. Through 2011, they had paid $7.5 billion to support MARTA.
Under the plan, DeKalb was to get $556.8 million for projects entirely within the county and would have shared in another $700 million in projects with Atlanta and Fulton County.
South DeKalb leaders and residents opposed the referendum because a long-promised I-20 rail line to Stonecrest was not fully funded. Instead, the area was to get $225 million to build five bus stations that could be converted to rail stations later.
That was on Larry Harper’s mind when he went to cast his ballot at the precinct at Wesley Chapel Library in Decatur Tuesday.
He said he doesn’t understand how DeKalb and Fulton counties were being asked to pay twice to benefit the other counties.
“They need to come up with a plan that will benefit everybody,” he said. “Why should we pay for something that will help others but not us? They said it’s going to create jobs but not for minorities. There should be something in the referendum that says some of the [construction] contracts will go to minority companies.”
State Rep. Pam Stephenson, who watched the results with a group that included state Reps. Howard Mosby and Dee Dawkins-Haigler, and DeKalb School Board member Jay Cunningham at Java Delight cafe in Decatur, said the message was clear.
“It says that we all should go back to the table together to solve this traffic problem,” she said. “When all the people are at the table, good things happen. It has to be inclusive. We are a region, but we can’t just say we are a region without recognizing that it’s all-inclusive.”
Mosby, who chairs the DeKalb Delegation to the General Assembly, said it’s time to create a real plan that brings everyone to the table.
“We need to have a statewide transportation discussion to make Goergia competitive nationally and internationally,” he said. “We need to have a serious discussion about MARTA and what we want to do with that transit system. The next plan should be a more inclusive plan that includes election officials, and special interest groups. Everyone needs to be at the table. People need to know that their voices were heard.”
Mosby said that the discussions need to start as early as December.
“We don’t need to wait for next year,” he said. “We need to start right away.”