Driving through Ormewood Park recently, I saw dozens of homemade yard signs urging a "no" vote on next week's T-SPLOST referendum. They looked to be the handiwork of someone passionately opposed to another penny in sales tax and who had managed to persuade his neighbors to help spread the word.
There are a number of reasons some people will be voting against the transportation tax next Tuesday. Maybe they don't believe the list of planned projects will benefit them directly. Maybe they think there are too many roads and not enough transit — or perhaps the reverse. Or they simply think a 9-cent sales tax is too high, no matter what the benefit.
I'm not particularly eager to pay more sales tax, either, but I'll be voting in favor of the T-SPLOST. This isn't because I have no issues with the project list — although it's a pretty good deal for intown residents — or because I wouldn't like to see more focus placed on regional transit. It's because, to cite "Let's Make a Deal," there's nothing behind door No. 2.
Naysayers should realize that, if they vote against the T-SPLOST, they won't just be voting against the project list, or the timetable of improvements, or even the balance of roads vs. transit. Rather, they'll be voting against the process that produced all of the above. And if they reject the process, well, they'll be slamming a door shut that likely won't open again.
Here's what I'm talking about: Next Tuesday's referendum is the result of dozens of local politicians trying to find an answer to the region's traffic woes, which are just as bad in the 'burbs as they are ITP. After the Transportation Investment Act was passed by the General Assembly in 2010, local elected officials — including Mayor Kasim Reed — got together and hammered out the list of projects that you can read about elsewhere in this issue. When they were finished horse-trading, they approved the list unanimously.
As an antidote to metro Atlanta's clogged highways and long commutes, the T-SPLOST isn't perfect and won't please everyone. Political solutions — especially bipartisan ones — rarely do because they're the product of negotiation and compromise between competing interests. The goal of the politicians involved in this process was to create a set of priorities that they would be comfortable trying to sell to their constituents.
So, let's say you, the voter, are not entirely happy with the project list or some other aspect of the T-SPLOST as proposed. Join the club. But don't vote against it thinking you'll get another shot at approving a version that's more to your liking, because that ain't gonna happen. Why would it? Even if the Legislature decided to try this again, a do-over would have to go through the very same political negotiation process that yielded this list, so why would next time be any different?
In other words, a vote against the T-SPLOST is a vote against trying to find a political solution to our transportation problems.
Now, to be fair, there are other potential avenues to relieving our metro-wide gridlock. There's the administrative solution. When he was governor, Roy Barnes created the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which he envisioned as an umbrella agency to oversee and coordinate the disparate county and local transit programs. Before it could be given the needed power to carry out this mission, of course, Barnes lost re-election and Gov. Sonny Perdue set about dismantling his work.
Could Gov. Deal pick up where Barnes left off? Certainly. Does that seem likely? What do you think?
Also, it's theoretically possible that the Georgia Department of Transportation could step up to the plate and figure out how to solve the traffic conundrum. But, again, how likely is that, considering that we keep tossing out DOT commissioners who don't measure up to the leadership standards set by Tom Moreland and Wayne Shackleford? Today's DOT can scarcely run its own affairs, much less forge a transportation vision that's going to please intown progressives. And even if it tried, that wouldn't get the Beltline built any quicker.
One of the ironies here is that the T-SPLOST's most active opponents are the Tea Party crowd that shouts down all proposed taxes. But, for much of the '90s, Cobb, the most conservative metro county, funded an ambitious program of local road and transit projects through a local-option sales tax. Sometimes voters approved it and, in years when they thought it wasn't needed, they rejected it.
If you're OK with the status quo and you think Atlanta traffic is fine as it is, then I won't try to persuade you to support the T-SPLOST. Same goes if you feel the cost far outweighs any possible benefit.
But if you're hoping that something better is going to come along, you're fooling yourself. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.