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Atlanta Votes Down Transportation Tax

Yesterday, voters of the 10 metro Atlanta counties said no to a new transportation tax initiative.

Atlanta is one of the most congested cities in the nation. Credit: Frank Kehren on Flickr

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Atlanta, home to the world’s busiest airport, is also infamous for traffic congestion and a dearth of public transit options. And for now, it looks like things will stay that way.

Yesterday Atlanta voters decisively defeated a referendum that would have raised billions of dollars for highway and public transit spending, with nearly 63 percent voting no in all 10 counties in which the ballot was posted.

The Atlanta T-SPLOST — or the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — was an initiative to raise $8 billion over 10 years through a 1 percent sales tax on the 10 counties that make up the Atlanta metro region. Over 157 new projects would have earned funding, with 48 percent of revenues going toward road projects and 52 percent toward new public transit projects — mainly through funding MARTA, Atlanta’s regional transit authority.

But, as with any new tax or plan to spend massively on infrastructure, the measure was controversial.

T-SPLOST would have funded the often derided MARTA. Credit: Bruno Pinheiro on Flickr

T-SPLOST money would have contributed to plans for a new streetcar line, light rail projects and the BeltLine, an ongoing revitalization project spanning 22 miles. (Supported by both Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, some view the BeltLine as monumental, perhaps as important to the city as the creation of Hartsfield-Jackson airport or hosting the 1996 Olympics.)

Meanwhile, MARTA would have received substantial funding for capital projects without overbearing restrictions (for instance, it is currently denied the right to rebuild old buses, and instead must buy completely new ones). Many worry that, despite Atlanta’s tremendous growth and regional and national importance, this glory won’t last if the pressing issue of transportation isn’t taken seriously. For them, T-SPLOST was an important vote on ensuring a prosperous future for Atlanta.

Atlanta will face further congestion. Credit: Ron Reiring on Flickr

One of the biggest opponents to the tax increase was, expectedly, the Tea Party. A more unusual detractor, however, was the Sierra Club, which drew surprise and some ire by opposing the measure, officially stating that T-SPLOST would spend too much on roads instead of public transit.

Also among the opposition was the NAACP, which said that new projects built under T-SPLOST would not adequately serve Atlanta’s African-American neighborhoods. Many DeKalb County voters voted no since under current plan, their county would not have received any new rail lines. Others still believed that they were being duped: While T-SPLOST was being sold as a way to fight congestion, some argued that new public transit would not actually fix the problem. Not helping matters, a recent poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that nearly 42 percent of metro Atlanta residents believe public transit brings crime.

It seems that the measure was doomed from the start: Many voters opposed any type of new taxation, and others thought the measure wasn’t progressive enough. One obstacle was the fact that it had to overcome a huge urban/suburban divide; in a sense, yesterday’s vote demonstrates that Atlanta remains a mostly suburbanized city.

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Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationtransit agenciestaxescommutingatlantakasim reed

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