Liberals, conservatives unite against TSPLOST sales tax hike to fund transportation projects

5:58 AM, Jul 11, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- A rare coalition of conservatives and liberals is speaking out in one voice, united against the proposed sales tax hike that would pay for new transportation projects.

The proposal is on the July 31 ballot, and early voting is already underway.

The proposed sales tax hike of one cent on the dollar -- TSPLOST, which stands for Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax -- is uniting people who usually fight against each other on virtually every other issue.

Those against the tax hike include -- on the right -- conservative, anti-tax, small-government Tea Party groups, and suburban and rural Republicans; and on the left -- civil rights groups such as the NAACP, and labor unions.

They're all urging voters to go to the polls and vote NO to the sales tax hike.

"It seems to me there's a kind of a populist resentment," said Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).

Sen. Fort said the opponents want solutions to the region's traffic jams as much as supporters do, but they just don't want to pay a higher sales tax for the projects that were selected.

"On many issues we don't agree. I happen to agree with the Tea Party on this issue ... And I'm just glad that there's this, what I'm calling, this grassroots groundswell of opposition to this."

On the other side, business and financial institutions crucial to metro Atlanta's economy are for funding the projects with the sales tax hike.

Some of the biggest employers in metro Atlanta -- nearly 500 companies -- are united in the belief that the sales tax hike and the new transportation projects that the sales tax would pay for are crucial to the region's future job growth. It's a region choking on traffic congestion that is so bad, employers are seeking to relocate their businesses elsewhere.

"This is all about the business of our region, can we grow like we grew in the last two decades," said Sam Williams of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

The nearly-500 companies supporting the transportation funding plan include Atlanta Gas Light, Bank of America, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, General Electric, Georgia Natural Gas, Georgia Power Company, Turner Broadcasting System and UPS.

"There is no other alternative" to the transportation funding plan, Williams said, pointing out that the tax must, by law, expire after 10 years. And he said the projects that the tax would fund were chosen by community leaders across metro Atlanta.

"If this fails, what we're going to have, we're probably going to have toll roads. But the toll roads aren't going to be 50 cents. They're going to be two or three bucks ... Somebody asked me and said, 'Who hopes you fail here?' And I said, 'Well, Charlotte, Tampa, Denver. A lot of these other cities that are looking to grab the job growth.'"

Williams is hearing estimates that maybe only 15 percent of the registered voters will actually vote in the July 31 referendum.

"This is going to be a very close election," he said. A 15 percent turnout in the 10-county metro Atlanta region would amount to "about 350,000 voters. So it's 175,000, plus one, that's going to win this. It's going to be very close. We think that it's neck and neck. But the other thing we're doing is getting civic, business organizations, every chamber of commerce in the metro area, environmental groups, community groups organized to get out the vote. And also we've got almost 500 private companies that are saying this is so important to our business that we want our employees to know about it, and some companies are actually saying we encourage our employees to vote for it."

"The TSPLOST is unfair," Fort said. "For people in DeKalb and Fulton Counties, for example, we'd be paying two pennies. We already pay a MARTA penny for transit. And now we're being asked to pay an extra penny, while people in Cherokee and Gwinnett will only be paying that one penny. We don't think that's fair for Fulton and DeKalb."

Williams argues that everyone in Metro Atlanta benefits from transportation improvements anywhere in the region.

"There's always going to be someone second-guessing, 'Well, I don't like this project, or I don't like that project,'" Williams said. "I think the thing to remember is that 65 percent of people who live in Atlanta don't work in the county they live in. So you're driving all over the region."

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