The group says it formed after 75 activists representing various organizations, along with elected officials opposed to the transportation tax, met to brainstorm on March 31 at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, with some coming as far away as Valdosta.
Chairing the group, which is rolling out a website at TrafficTruth.net, is Jack Staver of Woodstock, regional safety manager with DPR Construction of Atlanta.
Staver said his group’s goal is to target the information being put out by the pro-tax lobby.
The campaign to pass the Transportation Investment Act referendum is structured into two groups.
One is the education arm, the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, which is chaired by developer Bob Voyles and vice chaired by lobbyist Michael Paris.
MAVEN has raised more than $2 million for its education campaign, largely funded by the various community improvement districts in metro Atlanta, according to Atlanta Regional Chairman Tad Leithead.
The second arm is the advocacy branch called Citizens for Transportation Mobility, a group chaired by Post Properties CEO David Stockert, which is running the “Untie Atlanta” campaign to encourage voters to pass the referendum.
That group has raised about $5 million but aims to reach $6.8 million, Leithead said.
Key points Staver said his group wants to make are that proposed rail projects will not relieve traffic congestion; that the TIA is not a temporary tax since expensive transportation projects will require billions more to complete than the allocated tax amount; and that contrary to MAVEN’s and CTM’s claims, there is a Plan B if voters reject the tax: simply redo the project list, as state Reps. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) have advised.
“MAVEN is well funded to the tune of $2 million, some of which is through the unconstitutional use of taxpayer money from CIDs, Staver said. “We are truly a grassroots, volunteer-driven organization that is self-funded through donations.”
Bert Brantley, the former spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, is now serving as the spokesman for MAVEN.
Brantley said MAVEN is simply serving as a source of information to educate the public.
“We’re trying to let people know there’s a vote coming, because from our polls we still see there’s a lot of undecided folks out there or just don’t know about the referendum at all, and then B, let them know there’s a project list that they can get information about and the web site and where to go to get that and all this data that has been put together by the Atlanta Regional Commission and others that have tried to quantify what the impact on traffic will be,” Brantley said.
MAVEN’s website is www.transform metroatlanta.com.
Jeff Dickerson, spokesman for the Citizens for Transportation Mobility, said his group expected and welcomes the opposition.
“There was opposition to MARTA in the ’60s; there was even opposition to building the biggest airport in the Southeast,” Dickerson said. “We expected the opposition. But we’d be the size of Birmingham if metro Atlantans hadn’t rejected the opposition’s stance on MARTA and the airport. And we’ll keep our competitive edge and create thousands more jobs if voters say ‘yes’ and again reject the opposition’s stance.”
Dickerson said the Transportation Leadership Coalition is urging people to vote no to 200,000 jobs, $19 billion in new income, making the region competitive with others, “and an unbelievable ‘no’ to more productivity and time spent with families instead of sitting snarled in traffic jams.”
“They’re also voting ‘yes’ for a tax — a congestion tax, now at $924 a year per commuter — that will only rise if our region fails to come together to address its biggest problem,” he said.
Staver’s Transportation Leadership Coalition is the latest group in a parade of organizations opposing the referendum.
The Georgia Sierra Club and NAACP DeKalb County Branch oppose the tax just as the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party along with other local tea parties oppose it.
Other opponents include James Bell of Lilburn, director of the Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, who worked to oppose the 2011 county SPLOST. Brett Bittner of Marietta, executive director of the Atlanta-based Libertarian Party of Georgia and vice president of the Austell-based Cobb Taxpayers Association, said both groups he’s a member of are working to defeat the referendum.
“I want voters to vote no in July to tell the Regional Roundtable that we don’t appreciate the list of special favors that they’ve created, and we would like to see them do something that would benefit the region as a whole and make sure that those that are utilizing the resources are the ones that are paying for those resources rather than spreading the cost,” Bittner said.
Bittner said while about half the projects in the referendum are transit-related, in metro Atlanta transit use has gone down steadily for the last 20 years and averages about 5 percent.
“When you take a look at what MARTA costs to operate, the taxpayers are subsidizing about 80 percent of it for each trip that’s taken, so there are a lot of opportunities there with the money that’s being proposed especially in the transit perspective,” he said.
The arguments Bittner is using are similar to the ones he used in opposing the Cobb 2011 SPLOST.
“We’re increasing taxes at a time when people don’t have the money necessarily and governments are not tightening their belts,” he said. “In fact, they’re spending more as we see taxes go up throughout the state and in our region.”