“We are opposed to the TSPLOST in principle because we don’t believe that nine other counties and the city of Atlanta have the right to impose a tax increase on the citizens of Cobb County,” said J.D. Van Brink, who chairs the group’s board. “We believe that the law itself is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repealed.”
There are many other good reasons to oppose the tax, he said, including the fact that the vast majority of Cobb’s portion of the tax’s proceeds is earmarked for a Midtown-to-Cumberland light rail line.
“It’s very heavily weighted to the light rail, to the detriment of much better ways of resolving our transportation issues,” Van Brink said. “Also, Cobb County gets back only 83 cents for every dollar we put in. Why on earth would we want to subsidize transportation in the other counties and the city of Atlanta?”
Cobb transportation director Faye DiMassimo said the light rail line can be built in 10 years, a time frame Van Brink believes is optimistic. Even so, “We have transportation issues now,” he said. “Also, the light rail will need to be heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. There’s not a single light rail system in the country — in fact, I’ve been told in the world — that is self-sustaining. They all end up being subsidized to some degree by the taxpayers, and most often to a very high degree.”
Georgia Tea Party board member Tom Maloy said his group would actively work with other metro Atlanta organizations in campaigning against the proposed tax.
“Looking at Cobb County, first of all the project list just seems ludicrous to spend two thirds of the money on a transit system most of which exists in Fulton County,” Maloy said. “So what we’re doing is, we’re building a railroad for Fulton County to transport the people who live in the outskirts of Atlanta in Fulton County into Atlanta so they can go to work.”
Maloy believes the push for the proposed rail line is coming from the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is chaired by Tad Leithead, who also chairs the Cumberland Community Improvement District.
“I think some folks have been compromised by the ARC,” Maloy said.
Van Brink said while the tax at minimum is supposed to end after 10 years time, “we’re more likely mortgaging our future.”
“You know the origin of the word ‘mortgage’?” Van Brink said. “‘Mort’ meaning ‘death’ and ‘gage’ meaning an obligation or a payment. You know, this is probably going to go on a lot longer than 10 years if it does pass.”
There is also the matter of rail being a tempting terrorist target to consider, he said.
“If anyone doesn’t believe me — England and Spain,” Van Brink said. “Now, if we have a more decentralized mass transit system using buses, if the terrorists blow up a single bus, we can work around that. When they blow up a rail, that just brings the system to a grinding halt. So how much security are we going to have on this rail system, and how much will it cost?”
Commission Chairman Tim Lee said he was expecting opposition from the group based on his conversations with Van Brink.
“Their primary concern was county sovereignty in terms of not having an opt-out, and secondly, they thought transit should not be a part of it,” Lee said.
Lee said the group’s opposition didn’t bother him.
“The Georgia Tea Party are good folks, and they have a valued opinion, which I appreciate hearing from, and we’ll take that into consideration along with everybody else’s opinion before we’ll make our decision,” he said.
Lee said the Atlanta Roundtable he serves on would vote on finalizing the proposed TSPLOST project list Oct. 13.
If voters approve the 10-year transportation tax, Cobb is expected to receive $1.18 billion in funding for projects. The largest line item is an $856.5 million earmark for the Midtown-to-Cumberland light rail line.