Ed Baker, publisher of the well-respected Atlanta Business Chronicle and an east Cobb resident, tried to get the early morning crowd of more than 300 into the pro-tax game by slamming lawmakers who oppose the tax — a list that includes about every Cobb Republican lawmaker.
Lawmakers opposing the TSPLOST have to be held accountable “in a different way than before” for undermining the proposed tax’s importance, Baker said.
“I’m sorry as I can be that the politicians that are rearing their ugly heads and being politicians as opposed to public servants,” Baker said. “Generally speaking, they’re taking advantage of the timing from the standpoint of feathering their own nest (in opposing the TSPLOST) as opposed to stepping up and doing the right thing. This isn’t a vote of the politicians. This is a vote of the community. What do they know more than we know? What makes them the expert? I want to know who is in support of economic development and taking care of my back yard versus those who are more interested in typically what politicians do — they’re looking to get re-elected.”
Moderating the discussion was Marietta attorney Heath Garrett, who chairs the Cobb Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee.
Garrett asked the panel to address some of the “myths” surrounding the TSPLOST.
“One of the myths is that many voters don’t trust government to either pick the projects, build the projects on time, deliver them in a fiscally conservative way,” Garrett said.
Baker answered by saying nothing is perfect.
“These are public servants trying to do the right thing,” Baker said, dismissing such negativity as “glass half empty” thinking.
“Atlanta has never been a half-empty market place,” Baker said. “Shame on us for looking at it that way as opposed to trusting the people who have been put in a place of leadership to do the right thing.”
Baker further argued that the only reason there is debate over the TSPLOST is because of the economy.
“If this had been 10 years ago … when the economy was booming and everything was wonderful, and we were lighting our cigars with $5 bills, we wouldn’t be having this big discussion,” he said.
Leaning over to an Around Town contributor, Kennesaw City Councilman Tim Killingsworth whispered that he personally had never lit any cigars with $5 bills.
Baker also argued that the tax money would provide a much-needed stimulus for metro Atlanta.
“The economy in Atlanta is not very good,” Baker said. “It hasn’t been very good. Probably won’t be very good for years to come, and frankly to have a stimulus, a T-SPLOST to be injected into this community at this time, to re-employ a lot of people and to get our economy back in order, hopefully might happen at a time when the economy does indeed improve is something that we need in this market place.”
A second member of the panel, Post Properties CEO Dave Stockert, who is chairing the advocacy campaign called Citizens for Transportation Mobility, attempted to sell the TSPLOST in a different way.
“We don’t have quite the same sex appeal that we once did, and we’ve got to get it back,” Stockert said.
Stockert noted that such sprawling metro areas as Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, northern Virginia and Denver are investing in their transportation infrastructure and Atlanta is not.
“It’s up to us though to carry this thing across the finish line, the business community,” Stockert said. “No one else will do it for us. We’ve got to do it.”
Stockert scoffed at the suggestion that there is a Plan B in the event the tax is voted down, a proposal for which state Reps. Ed Setzler and Rich Golick have advocated. They contend that it would be better to come back with a project list that actually solves traffic congestion in two years if the tax vote fails.
“There’s no plan B out there,” Stockert said. “Everybody who says ‘if we don’t pass this we’ll just come back and have a better list and a better process or whatever,’ that’s just an excuse to lead you down the road to doing nothing, which is what we’ve always done. … To simply suggest that there’s going to be a better solution coming out of a political process is just absolutely naïve, and it will just set us back farther and farther from the places that are actually doing it now.”
Around Town asked Golick, a Smyrna Republican, to weigh in on those comments.
“Personal attacks are never productive, and they speak volumes about the credibility of the individuals or entities making the attack,” Golick said. “Most credible business leaders take the long view and understand that it’s not a good idea to burn bridges with the very people they may need to work with on another transportation initiative in the near future in the event that the people reject the current proposal or if the Supreme Court were to ultimately strike it down as unconstitutional.”
In response to Stockert’s claim of naiveté, Setzler, an Acworth Republican, added: “Pushing the reset button makes far more sense than wasting $3,500 per household on this shameful project list.”
Setzler said the brutal irony is that passing T-SPLOST will actually make traffic worse by consuming the state’s last possible sales tax penny on projects that will not fix Georgia’s traffic problems.
“Do not be deceived … given the billions this TSPLOST will utterly waste, if we’re silly enough to be fooled by this mega ad campaign, we will be stuck in traffic forever,” Setzler said.
While Stockert spoke of “sex appeal” and Baker of keeping a list, the third speaker on the panel, Paul Bennecke, founder of Red Clay Strategies, spoke of shame.
Bennecke said he recently encountered a TSPLOST critic who said he intended to vote no on July 31 because the proposed 10-year tax didn’t do anything to improve his quality of life.
“I said shame on you,” Bennecke told the crowd. “Shame on you for being so selfish. Shame on you for not doing what every other generation before us in American history has done, and that is leave it better than you found it.”
One of the sponsors of Monday’s breakfast, Josh Rowan, a principal engineer with Jacobs Engineering, took to the stage to give a list of pros and cons in voting for the T-SPLOST. His favorite reason to be against the tax, he said, mocking county commission candidate Bill Byrne, was that “this is part of a secret conspiracy that the U.N. has propagated to control our lives,’” a comment that prompted a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Byrne weighed in on those comments, telling Around Town that Jacobs Engineering is a primary consultant of Cobb County “and a big (Cobb Chairman) Tim Lee supporter.”
“They realize what is at stake with this campaign, and they know I am leading the effort to defeat the TSPLOST and they will no longer have a place at the ‘County Trough’ if I prevail,” Byrne said. “Most engineering firms follow the money and they know what the polls are telling them … (the) ‘Untie Atlanta’ marketing proposal continues to fall on deaf ears and failure will come on July 31.
“What else can they do but to mock me in an effort to impact the Chairman’s race and the TSPLOST vote. I am the main obstacle to their success and taking me down has become their primary objective.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) and Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire) will bring their tour of the state to McCollum Airport on Wednesday.
The trio is travelling the state this week to highlight the accomplishments of the recent legislative session and discuss their agenda for 2013.
Constituents, business leaders and local officials are invited to attend. The event runs from 11 to 11:45 a.m. at the airport, located at 1123 McCollum Parkway in Kennesaw.
The Cobb County Civic Coalition will present a Cobb Commission Chairman candidate forum at 7 p.m. tonight in the Commissioners Meeting Room, located at 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.
The forum can also be viewed on TV23 and online through TV23 LiveStream at www.CobbCounty.org/tv23.