Maybe moving forward with big ventures at this time shows just the opposite of vision - blindness or arrogance or recklessness.
I've been trying this week to empathize with area elected officials on the proposed TSPLOST. You want this money to help your town, yet you've watched a federal government gone wild with spending, a massive, failed federal stimulus, a bogus "summer of recovery," unimagined foreclosure rates, job losses and business failures. Even your investments in the stock market dive, return and then dive again. You know it's bad, even if you can't admit it aloud to you're upset, scared and angry constituents. And when the unimaginable happens - members of the Congressional Black Caucus accuse the president of abandoning his core voters and ignoring their pain - you have no doubt. Now is not the right time to burden the people more.
Meanwhile, you deal with the Taxed Enough Already crowd, still strong despite continuing national media ridicule. In Cobb they're probably your friends, your base constituents if you've got an R next to your name. And you know they've trusted you to keep the faith. Fiscal conservatism probably put you in office, and you campaigned on it from day one.
In fact, this columnist saw a few of you at the tea parties, networking and being seen, remember?
So now comes the TSPLOST, a visionary concept that on its own isn't so bad. It's got shared burden, it's only a penny on the dollar, and might bring real transportation relief if the right projects are approved.
But in the context of the times and on top of multiple other SPLOSTs with sketchy track records, voters are unimpressed and angry. Respectable bloggers and pundits call the TSPLOST referendum "road kill" and courageous mayors like Don Haddix of Peachtree City are coming under tremendous pressure for saying publicly it's a "net negative" for their towns. The very legislators who put TSPLOST on the map are having second thoughts, critical of The List and scrambling to hold town hall meetings for input, though they already know how those are going to go.
And aside from debating the merits of rail or particular road-widenings, there's the perception among more than a few educated citizens that the Atlanta Regional Commission and their friends the municipal associations, community improvement districts (CIDs) and chambers of commerce (that have sadly evolved from really great networking organizations into just more power-imbued lobbyists with major political influence) not only want our dollars, but are also trying to force certain lifestyle concepts down our throats. Urbanization, high density-no back yards (HDNBY) Agenda 21 "sustainable community" stuff that will transform our once quiet suburbs into, well, something very few of us seek.
Public perception is everything, and We the People perceive some sellouts. We know chamber members, businesses, don't pay sales tax and SPLOSTs are a good way of shifting that tax burden to the little people. Even our kids buying a three dollar bag of silly bands will pay.
If you are a local elected official, the pressure is constant, we realize. But trust is a difficult thing to regain once it's lost.
So here are a few older comments I pulled out about the TSPLOST. Judge for yourself how they reconcile with today's reality:
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, as quoted by ARC Chairman/Cumberland CID chief Tad Leithead: "This is the biggest public works project we have ever considered in the state of Georgia. The Olympics had $1.8 billion in economic impact. This is three times that at least."
Marietta Mayor Thunder Tumlin in January, 2010: "I heard at the Georgia Municipal Association that (the TSPLOST) will need another one to come in right behind it, and another right behind that."
Tumlin, traditionally in the No MARTA camp, also told Georgia Trend, "I'm not a fan of transit-related housing concepts. At first presentation, I didn't like it. It looked like apartments for ten miles (on Highway 41) and I didn't want that. As I learned to listen, I could see how mass transit could help 41, if we can make that students' or mixed use density but not apartments."
Mayor Tommy Allegood said (also in Georgia Trend's January article) that TSPLOST could fund a huge high-density retirement project in Acworth.
"Seventy million in SPLOST funds would be perfect for" what he calls the "senior tsunami," an influx of retirees. "We have 100 acres right now inhabited by 500 people. Three hundred homes are public housing. When we're finished with our livable city concept, there could be 3,000 people there with 1,000 homes including apartments."
WellStar plans a $14 million outpatient campus in Acworth, which is a key component of the plan, according to Allegood.
Mayor Mark Mathews of Kennesaw, one of the reps on the TSPLOST roundtable, has pushed back this week amid a load of bad press on the topic.
It's been reported that he's not yet on the record for or against the plan, but he has said, "Everybody's forming their opinions on half-truths...making assumptions."
So I guess we're supposed to let their mouths move a little more before forming our opinions, all the while allowing powerful interests to ramp up their campaign for investing in their change.
My favorite quote and the most telling is this one, from Polk County's Billy Croker, chair of the regional commission board: "There is no other plan. If this fails, I don't know where we'll go (for funding)."