WSJ misunderstands why T-SPLOST was defeated

Inaccurate labelling is the reason T-SPLOST was defeated, along with Atlanta is not all of Georgia, but the Wall Street Journal doesn’t understand that.

Cameron McWhirter wrote for the Wall Street Journal 1 August 2012, Tea Party Ties Up Tax to Ease Atlanta Traffic

ATLANTA—Money and heavyweight endorsements don’t secure an election — especially when you propose higher taxes in a deeply conservative state with a robust tea-party movement.

A plan for a transportation sales tax was endorsed by Georgia’s Republican governor and the Democratic mayor of the state’s largest city. It was backed by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the area’s top businesses. It was pushed by top political consultants funded by more than $8 million in corporate and other donations.

Those against the plan were a loose coalition of tea-party activists, some environmentalists and a local branch of the NAACP. Their total raised? About $15,000.

But David slew Goliath.

That’s lazy reporting. Those “some environmentalists” included the Georgia Sierra Club, an organization which reportedly has more members than the state Democratic Party. And that’s just in Atlanta.

Opponents in our region included Democrat Ashley Paulk, who was on the T-SPLOST executive committee and is the current Chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, Democrat Gretchen Quarterman, who is the Chairman of the Lowndes County Democratic Party (LCDP) and is running for Chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, as well as Nolen Cox, Chairman of the Lowndes County Republican Party (LCRP), and Roy Taylor, LRCP First Vice Chair and well-known Tea Party activist, along with a wide range of other opponents.

Look at the difference between that Region 11 T-SPLOST vote map and this map of the Atlanta Metro T-SPLOST vote. Atlanta metro is clearly centered around Atlanta. Region 11 isn’t an economic region: the vote was split right down the middle between No on the east and west and Yes in between.

Region 11 throws together three population centers: Lowndes, Tift, and Ware Counties, with their largest cities Valdosta, Tifton, and Waycross. Lowndes and Tift are at least connected by I-75, and they and most of the ones around them voted against (Ben Hill, Turner, Berrien, Cook, Lanier, Echols, and Brooks). Ware County and all the counties east of it (Pierce, Brantley, and Charlton) voted against. In between there’s a complete barrier of counties that voted for T-SPLOST (Irwin, Coffee, Bacon, Atkinson, and Clinch). Those No counties completely separate the eastern Ware County group from the western Lowndes-Tift group.

The perception around here is that T-SPLOST was made up to affect metro Atlanta, and the rest of the regions were thrown together just so there would be regions to pretend that it had something to do with the whole state. The WSJ (and the AJC) reinforces that impression when it only reports about Atlanta Metro: the WSJ article doesn’t even report on any T-SPLOST vote results outside of the Atlanta region.

Few people believed the scare tactics that T-SPLOST was essential and there would be no Plan B. Many of the projects in Region 11 were unnecessary at best, some apparently didn’t even need new funding.

Yes we can make a Plan B. How about we do something to deal with sprawl and to get our unemployed to work, like maybe public transportation?

And the article concludes:

Joseph Crespino, an historian at Emory University and an expert on southern conservatism, said the vote reflected deep voter distrust.

“These [voters] are people who are suspicious of public officials using their money wisely,” he said.

Lots of Georgians including liberals and independents, are suspicious of the Georgia Department of Transportation using their money wisely, and for good reason. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) jumped up costs for three Region 11 projects by 50%, 70%, and 131.5% giving no reason for that to the public. GDOT left two Interstate highway projects on the Region 11 T-SPLOST list even though Georgia gets $2 billion in federal funding for such projects. GDOT that apparently requires Lowndes County to approve an over-budget bid to do “value renegotiation”. GDOT that wouldn’t even consider federal high-speed rail funds. I could delve into GDOT’s internal budgetary problems, but probably you get the point already.

Indeed, there’s a T-SPLOST trust problem, largely because there’s a GDOT trust problem. And a huge part of that trust problem is exactly treating Atlanta like it’s all that matters, for public transportation and for everything else. Why should people in south Georgia vote for a tax that was designed to benefit Atlanta and cede local control over it in our cobbled-up region to Atlanta?

How about a state-wide transportation strategy? How about passenger rail from Atlanta to Valdosta and Savannah and on to Orlando and Jacksonville? How about a Valdosta metro bus and commuter rail system? How about improvements to the Valdosta airport? How about high speed rail from Atlanta to DC? Georgia would already be working on that if not for GDOT.

WSJ quotes someone as saying,

…many saw the road projects as government aid programs “for construction companies and real estate moguls,” he said.

Around here that perception is not limited to people of any particular politics, because there’s so much evidence that it’s true. The problem is not government. The problem is that T-SPLOST was pushed by corporate interests at the expense of the people of Georgia. That is the source of mistrust.

The solution is to elect legislators who will represent the people, not corporations.