MARIETTA- The “Untie Atlanta” side in Thursday’s forum on the July 31 transportation referendum called the vote the most important in the Atlanta area in 40 years, while the “No TSPLOST” speaker said the flawed project list can be put back together in time for another vote in two years.
“It’s too important, it’s too critical to our future,” said Atlanta attorney Douglas Dillard, chairman of the Council for Quality Growth. “If we’re going to bring real estate out of this depression, we’ve got to give it some help.”
But state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) responded with a PowerPoint presentation called “Untie the Truth,” show-ing a development in Portland, Ore., that was intended to be built around a light rail line, but now featured vacant storefronts. Though Setzler voted for the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, and even encouraged other legisla-tors to do the same, the $6.1 billion project list that’s now composed of 52 percent transit money soured him on the package.
“We’ve got to be laser focused on fixing traffic, not transforming Atlanta into a transit fantasy that some people might have,” he said.
Each speaker addressed an audience the about 120 people at a Marietta Business Association lunch meeting for 10 minutes on the referendum that will determine whether or not a 10-county metro Atlanta region will use a 1 per-cent sales tax to pay for 157 road and transit projects over a decade. They then took questions submitted on color-coded note cards, green for the yes side and red for no.
Setzler was questioned about why he voted for the transportation bill in the first place.
“I proudly supported the TIA, but I opposed this vigorously because the purpose in the first place was to fix traf-fic, not to fund special interest projects,” he said.
Setzler said “in town interests,” who he declined to identify, redirected the bill from being a funding mechanism for road projects into an attempt to pay for the rail transformation of Atlanta.
“It in essence becomes an $8.4 billion bait and switch,” he said.
Dillard was asked about traffic delays that would be caused by TIA–related construction over the next decade, particularly when the area is already constantly dealing with traffic issues.
“You’ve been putting up with it this long, you can put up with it another 10 years,” Dillard said. “We’re going to have some disturbance, but it’s a small price to pay versus sitting in traffic like we’ve been doing. And if we don’t do anything, it’s getting ready to increase by 25 percent.”
After the meeting, Dillard disputed Setzler’s claim that a new project list can be put together and placed on the ballot in 2014.
“It took six years to get it out of the legislature,” said Dillard, a partner in the firm of Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco, who has specialized in zoning cases. “Both (Atlanta) Mayor (Kasim) Reed and the governor have said they’re not going to brining it up during their term of office. So, it won’t happen. It will not come back in two years.”
Setzler disagreed with assertions that it will be tough to pass another bill and put together a new project list. He expects another list to come out if the TIA fails at the polls, one with much less transit.
“Think about the energy the proponents of this are putting into this,” Setzler said. “Are they suggesting they are going to give up and not care anymore if this goes down? That energy will still be there, it’s just going to be commit-ted that much more to getting something the citizens can support. I think they were tone deaf in developing the list. I think they thought they could get away with it, and I’m hopeful that the citizens will understand that this is billions of dollars in wasteful spending…If all the voters could do their homework and understand what this is, they’d vote it down, and I think the interests that twisted this list into what it unfortunately is today, will learn their lesson and they will come back and fix traffic like they promised they would do.”
Banker Don Powell, who lives in Marietta close to the border with Kennesaw, came into the hour-long presenta-tion leaning toward voting for the TIA, but Setzler’s presentation changed his mind.
“His arguments made a lot of sense to me,” Powell said of Setzler. “He’s for doing something with transportation, but it’s the wrong projects…I think there’s too much light rail and real pretty projects, instead of projects that will just get traffic moving.”
Mortgage loan officer Lew Stafford of east Cobb said he won’t vote for the TIA this time, and isn’t likely to sup-port a sales tax to pay for a revamped project list in the future.
“I don’t want my taxes going up,” he said. “It would take a lot of convincing for me to vote for it. I generally vote ‘no’ on all tax increases.”