A stunning 69 percent of Cobb voters nixed the proposal for a new one-cent regional sales tax purportedly for transportation but really more an economic development plan with lots of local projects chosen by county and city officials as icing on the cake.
The TSPLOST garnered only 38,703 yes votes in Cobb, or 31 percent, swamped by 85,412 no votes. In the 10-county metro area, even Fulton and DeKalb, supposedly the linchpins of support, voted against the TSPLOST. Metrowide the vote was 248,319 in favor, or 37 percent, and 415,526 against, or 63 percent.
With the TSPLOST down the drain, the next question is: will Cobb Chairman Tim Lee survive a runoff with former Chairman Bill Byrne? The rule of thumb is that the incumbent gets all his votes in the primary, but in this race the baggage carried by Byrne may prove to be a major liability despite Lee’s unpopular support of the TSPLOST.
Lee said TSPLOST backers need “to regroup, get together and continue to work to identify a solution for the problem that’s in front of us and that’s the transportation bottlenecks that exist.” Indeed. The TSPLOST plan was fatally flawed because it did not focus on bottlenecks and other congestion problems instead of mass transit and economic development.
TSPLOST opponent Ron Sifen got it right: “Voters figured out that the pro-TSPLOST hype was false and that too much money was going to benefit special interests but would not reduce traffic congestion.” He was also right about Plan B, if there is one, requiring that funds be spent to “effectively reduce traffic congestion.”
There were just too many negatives starting with locked-in 10 years of added sales tax. A big non-starter was the $689 million “enhanced premium transit service” for Cobb, which was subject to morphing into light rail — depending on a study to be completed long after the referendum. On top of that, Cobb could have been outvoted by the other counties in the region and then be saddled with the 10-year tax against its will.
Another blunder was name-calling and down-putting of opponents — Tim Lee calling them spoiled brats or racists, and a consultant trashing Cobb for “racializing” MARTA. You could say the last straw was Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s unauthorized preamble to the ballot question, portraying the TSPLOST as providing “local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion.”
It turns out that voters are not quite as dumb as some of the sponsors of the TSPLOST apparently thought they were. Gov. Nathan Deal said defeat of the tax was disappointing, but he said state officials will now focus on the most pressing needs. There will be a “need to do” transportation improvement list, he said, but not a “want to do” list. Now that’s an excellent starting point. Metro Atlanta citizens want improved transportation — not a mass transit wish list or a pig in a poke.