Laura Armstrong: In these tax-and-spend times, We the People perceive some TSPLOST sellouts
August 28, 2011 12:00 AM | 5220 views | 14 14 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When you think about taking risks with your money these days, does it make you nervous? Even if you're comfortable being a visionary and a risk taker, this wounded economy is daunting.

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)."
Comments-icon Post a Comment
September 01, 2011
If this fails, we will get a chance to vote again in 2 years. That is where we go. Hopefully, we will have better information about alternatives and we will have a process that isn't all CID's, Chamber of Commerce, and realtors.

I think TSPLOST is a good idea. I just think the light rail line is not well thought out, especially because we do not know if other rail alternatives are cheaper and would provide better commuting relief for more of us. Further, if Cobb doesn't do something to improve transportation around Town Center, I will just give up on it and go to other shopping centers.
Sue with Tea
September 01, 2011
I'm a senior and have no intention of moving into a "high density, walking Acworth"! Revamping the town center was nice, but I don't see myself being stacked with a bunch of other old folks with all the noise of folks falling and banging walkers. Can you imaginge the walker races to the doctor and shopping in 95 degree heat and 95% humidity?

Only idiots and communists could come up with such a hairbrained "livability situation"!
August 31, 2011
Laura--your points to What a Nut Job are well taken. I do not attend these meetingd nor do I feel I need to to understand what is happening.

ToWhatanutjob--re: businesses paying the tax: where do you think they get the money to pay? Gee, they add it to the cost of goods or services if they want to stay in business.

"PS I don't know about your salary, but it's in fact the "little people," or the bottom income brackets, are the ones overwhelming crying out for transit access to their homes and jobs"

And who, exactly are these "little people"?? Some of them may be among the 500 people who reside on 300 acres right now.I am an Acworth resident, I am pro helping seniors and others who need it. I balance it, I think, fairly, with an intense dislike for increased human density which falls into the same urbanizing plan that the light rail will help to bring about.

You would be far more helpful if you were to provide the information on where the senior complex is going to be.

When you accuse Laura of having major holes in her argument, you justify through words that echo the Marxist theories of the past. We are a capitalist society. I believe a society with a heart. We do not need politicians and developers who go into a feeding frenzy to build what -they_ think is good for us. They are supposed to reflect the will of the people. It is, so far, up to us to vote on what we want and do not want.
August 31, 2011
Children! Children! Let's play nice.

We have gone from debating the need for the the TSPLOST, to communist plots by the UN, to the well documented incompetence of our political representatives, to alternately insulting and defending the elderly and back again!

Although not very enlightening it is somewhat entertaining.

The issue before us is a simple determination of whether the TSPLOST Project list (The List) makes sense and serves the current and future needs of Cobb County and, in a larger context, the Atlanta Region.

First off I think everyone can agree that the timing is horrible! But who knew?

No one anticipated that our current administration in DC would be so completely and utterly inept!!

I am only famailiar with the The List for Cobb County because that is where I live.

Right now it is, in my humble opinion, a project list that deserves some additional investigation and serious consideration before it is finalized in mid-October.

Some of the projects make sense and some are marginal.

However, one of the projects sticks out like a sore thumb and unfortunately, it is the most expensive item on our (Cobb County's) List.

It doesn't stick out just because it is the most expensive ($857M and a majority of the funding allocated to Cobb County) but because it just doesn't make any sense.

It is obviously a City of Atlanta/MARTA/Cumberland CID project which has little or no current or future (at least forseeable future) benefit to 98% of Cobb County. It is not a Cobb County Project!! Why is it on our side of the ledger!! Atlanta, MARTA and the Cumberland CID should pay for it!! Only $100M of it is even in Cobb County. That's your portion Mr.Leithead.

If it remains on the List, the TSPLOST vote deserves to fail in Cobb County. Of course, that doesn't mean that theTSPLOST will fail in the Region. If it passes regionwide Cobb County is stuck with the tax whether we like it or not.

Therefore, it is in our best interest to make sure that if the TSPLOST does pass we have a LIST that makes sense and we can live with.

Laura Armstrong
August 31, 2011
to What a nut job: Readers deserve to know what public comments have been made in the past about TSPLOST. Mayors depending on TSPLOST to bring massive retirement communities -- only one example -- to their towns is of interest to many people. You're the one calling the possible residents "Medicare junkies" which is revealing and insensitive at the least. I love older citizens, and would never object to having them as neighbors. I highlight the quote, however, because it reveals how the TSPLOST list happens. Could regional tax money be used to subsidize a mayor's personal whim? Well, now we've seen the list (all except for one county commish, I guess) and it appears not this particular one -- yet. But they're trying. And a massive retirement community seems not to fall within the parameters of the state legislation on this TSPLOST.

Also, I'm not against mixed use densities and happen to like urban living myself (such as Atlantic Station) but the majority of Cobb is here for a reason. Less density. Just attend any rezoning meeting for the last 40 years.

My job is to present facts along with starting a conversation about various subjects. It's always interesting to see what people cherry pick to focus on.

It's especially interesting to read comments by TSPLOST supporters who put down people who don't want new taxes by telling them to shut up because they aren't experts on transportation or taxes and/or haven't been to "all the meetings."

Guess what, the people don't have to be experts to decide where we want to spend our money or whether we'd be insane to vote to tax ourselves more. That's what makes this country great. Even the little guys -- not connected to powerful developers, lawyers and business interests -- CAN comment. Our voices can make a difference.
What a nut job
August 30, 2011
Oh no! The TSPLOST is going to bring high density old people to Acworth! It's Obama and the UN's socialist planning at its worst! Acworth will be doomed by improved transportation and the increased density of Medicare junkies! Wait, which of those quotes was suppose to make me against fixing our roads, bridges, sidewalks and transit?

Laura, I realize that some people will be against any new taxes regardless, but let me point out some major holes in your argument. How is it OK to "plan" a community to have highways and roads that support large homes and tracts of land, but it's not OK to "plan" to have other areas of the same community that are transit accessible and have a higher mixed use density? Our planning and our communities have to support both sides. True freedom is having the option for either. You don't get to use zoning as class warfare, both large tracks of land and small tracks can live peacefully together.

Also, you're wrong on the fact that businesses don't pay TSPLOST taxes. Every time they purchase any supplies or goods for their own use they pay local sales taxes. And every time they take a client out to eat they will pay. Not to mention if the TSPLOST passes, they will likely be an indirect cost associated with the increased cost of goods b/c of the tax.

It's evident you don't really know a whole lot about taxes or transportation planning. Your real reason for writing this is just that you don't believe in paying taxes right?

PS I don't know about your salary, but it's in fact the "little people," or the bottom income brackets, are the ones overwhelming crying out for transit access to their homes and jobs.

PSS Your kids don't need anymore silly bands anyway. If there's any waste of your money it's that.
to Jeff M.
August 30, 2011
Do a little research Jeff, into the U.N.'s Agenda 21. It's been around since the early 90s. Go read what LA Mayor Villagarosa says about outlawing backyards. See what the environmentalists want to do with our land planning. Take a look at "sustainable" cities. These are just a few of the left’s efforts to implement Agenda 21, a plan that calls for changing our nation from one of private ownership / control of property to one of central planning, Soviet Style, all under the guise of “Sustainable Development”. And this is not about protecting the environment. It IS about redistribution of wealth, elimination of choice and tyranny.

The plan is simple. Over time ICLEI (look it up) takes over a community and creates non-elected boards, councils and regional governments that are answerable to no one. (sound familiar, CIDS?) That is the definition of a “soviet”. ICLEI and Sustainable Development are like a cancer on the life of a local community. Local representation through the local government dies. But as most in this country are too busy with other areas of interest this is under the radar for the majority of people.

A resident
August 29, 2011
Atlanta needs to put up toll gates on 75 South.
Jeff M.
August 29, 2011
She's kidding, right? NO ONE is forcing anyone to live in a "no back yard" community. But the fact is that many people PREFER those types of developments, and they make a lot of sense, especially for the coming explosion of the aging population. But no one is going to keep you from living on a big acre of land if you want to. Pretty simple market economics - give people choices to live where they want to.

There is a larger issue here with this TSPLOST, and that is a lack of state leadership. Our legislature failed to lead for several years on this issue because -- while they saw the transportation needs growing -- they were too chicken to simply raise the gas tax to get the job done. The TSPOLST was a "punt" to the voters to raise their own taxes, and let the politicians off the hook. But the consequence was a gross politicization of the project-selection process and a very real possibility that the whole thing will be defeated, in which case NOTHING will happen in transportation for at least the next ten years. Good job, General Assembly.

We expect politicians to make hard choices sometimes, do the right thing, have courage, and lead. On an issue as important as transportation is to our region and state, the General Assembly has failed us. Other states and cities around the country are already capitalizing on our failures, and it's time we step up our game or we're not even going to be IN the game.

August 28, 2011
where were you?, many of us were not at those meetings. For some asinine reason we all had some level of belief that our county officials were not incompetent, self-serving, and otherwise prone to poor judgement and insane decision making. We did not really understand how stupid and/or easily bought off they were.

You obviously have no problem with the decisions that were made. I am guessing you are one of the hacks pushing the STUPID plan. You are either an idiot or a freeloader looking for another grasp on the county cash teat. Please feel free to buzz off!
where were you?
August 28, 2011
Dear Ole Judge and Jury Laura

I'm not an elected official but have been a student of HB 277 and was at vitually every public meeting in the project selection process funny I never saw you there - ever.

Nice to have the poison pen you have, these negative observations from afar must make you feel really powerful. Our representatives have done great job in helping Cobb move forward. I would suggest you spend more time in the trenches, really understand our regions transporttation problems and qualify yourself in this arena. Then, how some about realistic and constructive alternatives instead of simply regurgitating the MDJ company line.
August 28, 2011
Atlanta found a way to get Cobb to pay for MARTA. Your best hope is to get MARTA off the Cobb project list before it goes to a vote. If not, Atlanta will outvote Cobb and we will get the MARTA deal even if we vote "NO".
August 28, 2011
I am a believer in SPLOST, usually. It focuses money on named projects. And I think Cobb has done a good job on roads, sidewalks, parks - lots of projects that are good.

My biggest problem with the TSPLOST is with the concentration of money spent on the light rail. That rail, it is said, goes about 1 mile in Cobb County. It is focused on serving one area - Cumberland - and I think more concerned with bringing customers to the Cumberland area than with enabling transportation both ways for the benefit of commuters.

More, I don't think we have studied alternatives - such as rail running to Perimeter rather than mid-town Atlanta or using already existing rail lines for heavey rail between Atlanta and through Cobb, all the way to Acworth.

If we start this we are really committing to 20 or 30 years of building the rail system. I am willing to vote for that - if we can see that alternatives have been throughly evaluated and a long term plan laid out.
August 28, 2011
Oh dear Laura, don't be such a gloomy Gus. The "failed stimulus program," did have some bright spots. It provided jobs to photographers taking pictures of Rep Phil "Grinning" Gingrey passing out giant checks for a program he voted against. It also provided Gov Rick Perry more than six billon dollars to balance the Texas budget, proclaim his distain for government handouts and himself as a fiscal wizard.
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