“I believe on Tuesday that we’re going to pass this thing, and it may be by just one vote,” Mayor Kasim Reed told a roomful of TSPLOST supporters, media and even a few opponents of the tax increase. “I’m asking for your help. I pray and hope that you’ll give us a hand.”
Commenting on the historically anti-tax sentiment in Cobb County, Barnes also predicted that the tax increase would pass in the 10-county metro Atlanta region.
“But I will point out to you we (in Cobb) have passed two or three education SPLOSTs in a row,” Barnes said. “We have passed two or three — I know one of the road SPLOSTs got beat and then it came back the next year and passed. So I think the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I think that a lot of those that you hear from are really not the ones that are the true feel of the county. It’s going to be a difficult fight here. I think region-wide it’s going to pass.”
Reed said the latest data revealed TSPLOST was ahead in the polls.
“It’s going to show we’re up by about a point or two points,” Reed said, calling that a pretty significant swing over the last week.
“We’re certainly in stronger shape than we were when it was 38-41,” Reed said. “I think the movement that we had in the last six days is pretty formidable. I think we’re going to close strong in the last six days, and I think you all are going to be covering a race that’s neck and neck. I’m not uncomfortable with that because there was never a scenario where this was going to pass by more than 54 percent, so I think we’re up right now by about a point.”
Tuesday’s “Get out the vote” rally kicked off with remarks by Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, followed by WSB Radio’s Capt. Herb Emory, Barnes and Reed, concluding with Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews.
Among those in attendance were Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee, state Rep. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), state Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), state Rep. Sheila Jones (D-South Cobb), County Manager David Hankerson, Cobb NAACP President Deane Bonner, lobbyist Michael Paris, Lanie Shipp and Mary Lou Stephens of the Town Center Area Community Improvement District, Jim Croy of Croy Engineering, James Hudgins of ARCADIS, Slade Gulledge with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Brock Clay lobbyist Seth Millican, among others.
Lee, who did not speak at the rally but sat on the front row to show his support, said the event was organized by the pro-TSPLOST campaign Untie Atlanta.
“I came here in support of the process that we’re going through of the people of the region to decide their future next Tuesday,” Lee said after the event. “It’s an important issue for the region, and the people need to decide what direction they want to take, so I support the process that enables us to try and do that.”
In his speech, Reed called Cobb “an American success story.”
“You all remember the time when folks across the United States of America were writing about the quality of life and what you all were doing in Cobb County,” Reed said. “How you had a low-tax, pro-business environment. How you had leaders who made hard decisions before the rest of us got around to it. And that’s why Cobb grew jobs, that’s why Cobb grew quality of life, and that’s why this community is so very special.”
But that doesn’t mean sitting on one’s laurels. The TSPLOST is needed to spur the economy and move forward, he said.
“We’re going to determine whether we’re going to be stuck in the present where we’ve lost 200,000 jobs and only gained 300,000 jobs, a net 100,000 jobs over the last 10 years, whether we’re going to have a lost decade like Japan did, or whether we’re going to do what we do best, which is to be in the future business,” Reed said.
Reed dismissed the argument advanced by TSPLOST opponents that a better list of transportation projects can be brought forth in two years.
“Now I didn’t get a Ph.D in political science, but you mean to tell me that the Georgia General Assembly is going to put a sales tax up for a vote on a statewide referendum while there’s a gubernatorial election and everybody’s up on the ballot? Governor, you wouldn’t do that, would you?” Reed said, turning to Barnes.
Barnes said he certainly would not.
“That means the next real opportunity for a referendum … is four years away,” Reed said. “Because you know we’re not going to put a referendum up in two years.”
Shouting out from the audience, Patricia Hay of Mableton declared, “Because you know you’d lose.”
“You’re right,” Reed told Hay.
During the press conference, Barnes, who called Reed “one of the great mayors of the nation, maybe one of the greatest mayors in the nation,” warned that if TSPLOST were defeated, Charlotte, N.C., will be the next great city in the Southeast overtaking metro Atlanta.
Barnes said TSPLOST wouldn’t solve every transportation problem, but it was a start.
“We know from the ARC studies we really need to spend $50 (billion) to $60 billion, and that was the estimate several years ago, and this raises, my recollection is about $6 (billion), but you’ll be able to leverage that money, the type of multiplier that you’ll have for it, and over time will allow you to have greater and greater solutions,” Barnes said.
Reed rebutted critics who say the Atlanta Beltline should not be funded in the TSPLOST.
“As the elected leader of the city of Atlanta, I made the decision to use our $600 million allocation to invest in the Atlanta Beltline,” Reed said. “I’d also say to those folks, ‘that’s not even your money.’ The Atlanta region, the city of Atlanta is a net contributor to this overall effort, so if we want to spend our money on transit and on last-mile connectivity, I think that is our business, the same way that I believe the decisions that are made in Cobb and Gwinnett are their business.”
Reed also responded to criticisms about allocating $689 million for bus rapid transit in Cobb’s project list by saying Cobb County Transit has been a model and is one of the best systems in the region.
“Do you want to take a bus that connects to nothing?” Reed said.
Moreover, the bus line would be controlled by Cobb County, he said.
“Folks in Cobb did not want MARTA in Cobb County. Nobody tried to push that,” Reed said. “You’ve got a Gwinnett system. But let’s remember in the midst of all of that you’ve got 150,000 folks in Clayton County that don’t even have bus service to the job center. This is 1960s, 1970s stuff — 150,000 folks who can’t take public transportation and get to work. So at the end of the day we’re all going to have connectivity, but we’re keeping our own teams. So the CCT bus that Cobb folks know and love is going to continue to be the bus that runs on the streets of Cobb.”
Barnes followed up on the question by saying that transportation solutions are about choices.
“If they want to use mass transit, there ought to be that choice,” Barnes said. “If they want to sit in traffic in a single car, they ought to have that choice. And that’s what has been done here is it provides the choices. But for the opponents to say, ‘well, we’re not going to have the choices. We’re just going to have it one way,’ I think, is intellectually wrong and intellectually dishonest.”
In his comments, Mathews said regional cooperation among local governments has been at its best during the process of drawing up and promoting the TSPLOST.
“We know it’s working because it’s got everybody that can’t believe and doesn’t believe in regionalism and doesn’t believe in working with other people, they are really upset, and they don’t like it,” Mathews said.
Sitting in the audience with a “Vote No TSPLOST” sticker on his lapel, Republican Michael Opitz of Marietta, who is vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) in the Republican primary, commented on this after the event.
“Why do we need regionalism when we have wonderful counties where citizens elect the government in these counties to manage the counties, and then we want to make them a collective under bureaucrats who have no accountability to the people?” Opitz said. “I’ve sat through some of those meetings, and I’ve been surprised at the heavy-handedness of the bureaucrats who are not accountable to the citizens. Why would we want to do that to ourselves and diminish our role as citizens in a free society?”
Opitz also commented on Reed’s remark about not postponing the TSPLOST election in two years because there would be a gubernatorial election at that time.
“Everybody will be up to vote, and they will not have the guts to vote for an increase reflecting the will of the people, so it seems a bit disingenuous that he wants to subvert the will of the people while at the same time saying we have to do this because it’s in the best interest of the people,” Opitz said.