Atlanta, Ga.-- When you strip away the paid advocates and the slogans and the advertisements, the opposition over the July 31st transportation referendum is seen in a new light. It's a difference of viewpoints at the most basic level.
On one side, you have opponents of the referendum like Billy Wise. He's a retired naval aviator and part-time engineering consultant. But Saturday morning, he was a full-fledged protester. With flashers blinking, he gathered with dozens of other motorists to circle I-285 in protest of the TSPLOST.
"I sent an email out to my friends and I said, 'Look, why don't you come out and bring the wife and the kids and the dog and see what freedom of speech actually looks like," Wise said.
He said the extra 2-hours of driving and gasoline were a necessary expenditure to counter all the ad time the vote's backers are getting. He opposes the vote because he says the project list is bloated with spending that has nothing to do with traffic congestion, like the Beltline in Atlanta and a new control tower at McCollum Field in Cobb County. He doesn't like the idea of paying for another county's project he'll never use.
"I think that there could be a [better method of collection] and expenditure of the funds that they're going to collect from the taxpayers," Wise said.
Wise said the better answer would be to get drivers to pay for any new roads they use. If a road can and must be built to ease congestion-make it a toll road. He said the only negative spin on the Ga. 400 project came when the promise to remove the toll booths wasn't kept.
Backers of the 1% sales tax rallied in four different counties Saturday. They say the tax is a small amount of money to pay for a big boost to the region. They also say the variety of different projects is about more than traffic congestion-they're an economic shot in the arm.
"That's my favorite part about this vote," said Decatur law student Chris Thibodeaux. "I believe this is the first time the region has voted as a whole instead of broken up by counties, and that's what got me excited."
Wise pointed out that many of the projects are decades away and not fully funded by the 1% tax. On the other hand, Thibodeaux sees that 1% as a start in the right direction-a way to make Atlanta a more attractive place for those who live here and businesses that want to move here.
"It's an investment," Thibodeaux said. "And that's what an investment is, you pay up front, and then it comes back to you down the road."
Whether they were chanting or driving in an hour-long circle, both sides agreed that their rallies are a way to watch democracy in action.
"I love it," Wise said. "America's a great country."