A “Transform Metro Atlanta” folder arrived in the mail. Paid for by Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, Inc., the ad pictures a clogged expressway with this heading: “Atlanta commuters spend over an hour a day in traffic. One of the worst commute times in America.” In the bottom left corner: “Learn about one possible solution.”
Inside the folder, it says: “We need to fix our traffic problem because less traffic means more time at home.” Then: “Learn about one possible solution, the July 31st regional Transportation Referendum.”
“It’s up to you to decide if this is a good plan or not,” MAVEN says, and lists some facts including “100% of the money raised by the 1% sales tax will be spent on transportation projects in our 10-county region,” there will be audits tracking the projects, and the tax will last for 10 years or until “the funding level is reached, whichever comes first.”
There’s no argument with the facts. But let’s face it, MAVEN, the transparent purpose of this mail piece is to influence voters in favor of the regional transportation tax.
If the full-color folder presented only the facts about the referendum and the proposed projects, that would be clearly educational. But after describing the traffic problem, the piece suggests “one possible solution,” that being the regional sales tax. Is there any other possible solution? The folder gives none.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart read this one right. He said this was “starkly inappropriate” use of tax money by the Cumberland Community Improvement District to contribute an additional $70,000 to MAVEN after already giving $300,000 to help swell the group’s war chest to more than $2.1 million for a voter “education” campaign about the regional sales tax. CIDs raise money by a self-imposed tax on real estate in the districts.
Ehrhart is not buying the “education” label for the campaign that presents the case for the transportation sales tax. “That’s disingenuous,” he said, as the Journal’s Jon Gillooly reported. “To the CIDs: ‘We’re not stupid.’ These aren’t educational ads. They’re political ads.” He went on to say, “This is not a part of their role. Advocacy with tax money is wrong on so many levels and I couldn’t disagree with them more on this.”
Meanwhile, complaints from some constituents of Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott resulted in the county pulling a 30-minute infomercial about the transportation tax plan from the county TV23 channel. “They felt like it was biased,” having a “significant gleam towards approval of the (tax),” Ott said.
After the complaints, the county attorney’s office checked the program. “They had concerns and thought that it could be perceived as advocating,” county spokesman Robert Quigley said.
This is a case where the tax plan proponents — who include a huge array of well-heeled folks — should pony up the money for an honest campaign in favor of the Transportation Investment Act instead of misusing CID tax funds for that purpose.