Laura Armstrong: Leaders pushing TSPLOST pork while we're left asking 'Where's the beef?'
August 21, 2011 12:00 AM | 8691 views | 22 22 comments | 119 119 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We’re hearing about this upcoming 2012 regional TSPLOST vote, the largest proposed tax increase in Georgia history, expected to pull in $7 billion in sales tax from 10 counties over 10 years if we vote for it in a referendum next year.

If you’ve been too busy trying to find a job to pay attention, you should read about this latest government assault, a redistribution scheme and so much more.

Just to be clear, of the existing SPLOSTS we pay in Cobb, one is for school infrastructure, paying for new buildings and renovations — but more recently branching out to encompass controversial things like field turf, textbooks (that used to be paid from the general fund) and various other pork projects, depending on which school is politically favored at the time. We also pay a SPLOST for county infrastructure, things like intersection improvements (good) and unwanted sidewalks (bad), many of which are currently impassable with overgrown weeds because the county can’t afford to maintain them and obviously believes cutting down perfectly good mature trees in medians takes precedence over pedestrian walkways.

There are a few drawbacks inherent in SPLOSTs, but you’ll never hear big-spending government bureaucrats admit it.

So now comes the regional transportation SPLOST or TSPLOST, which comes at the height of our national economic chaos and personal hardship for many of our neighbors.

It’s easier to call it the Georgia Porkulus, modeled after last year’s failed federal stimulus.

We’re supposed to vote on it sometime next year, but the politicians and their crews are maneuvering to manipulate the date based on projected dumb-voter turnout, which is a whole other column.

The idea is to promise something for everyone under the guise of alleviating transportation woes, but there’s much more to it. Some counties, like Cobb and Fayette, will clearly become “donor counties,” meaning we’ll pay in a good deal more than we’ll ever see returned in benefits. If one county votes the TSPLOST down but it’s approved overall among the ten, we’ll still be stuck paying on everything purchased for the next decade.

Administering the tax, sort of, is a fancy contingent of county and city politicians calling themselves a “roundtable,” though they’re quite the opposite of knights in shining armor, working hard to keep their counties (and special interests?) on the working list of pork projects. Commission Chair Tim Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews are Cobb’s reps, which is sort of like putting the foxes in charge.

Other important business people like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce (represented as the Georgia Transportation Alliance), the local Cumberland CID (and other CIDs around the region), municipal associations and various private companies who stand to benefit from more taxpayer largesse in the form of

transportation pork, are about to inundate us with reasons we should vote to tax ourselves more. They likely have massive PR budgets, focus-grouping their message to sound something like, “Stimulate the economy, invest in ourselves, vote yes or unimaginable terror awaits on the roads.”

Remember the term lipstick on a pig. It seems to fit the Georgia Porkulus.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) should be applauded for coming out against the main enticement for Cobb, an $857 million light rail train, which I will forthwith call the Ghost Train because who the heck is going to ride it?

As Setzler rightly points out, the proposed Ghost Train would connect the Cumberland CID, at the edge of the county, to the mid town Atlanta MARTA Arts Center Station at a cost of $4,000 per Cobb household, with likely less than five percent of us using it. Is it possible our knights, Lee and Matthews, forgot to explain to the rest of the round table that Cumberland is not an easy destination if you live off Mars Hill Road in the northwest or Little Willeo or Shallowford on the east side of the river? Wending through traffic all the way to Akers Mill and Cobb Parkway sounds appalling, not appealing, and that doesn’t even include parking, waiting on a train and taking it probably only part way to some final destination. I’m exhausted simply writing about it.

Most of us would rather cut off our right arm.

And the knights of the roundtable’s budget, Setzler reminds us, doesn’t even include money to run the Ghost Train in the future, only build it.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Benita Dodd adds that there are no guarantees the project can be completed within ten years or even by 2026, a huge problem if voters get smart and banish the tax.

Ghost Train. Imagine it, over the appalling $100 million per mile budget and/or incomplete, an obscene symbol of the epidemic of bad government in this era. I’m reminded of Boston’s Big Dig.

We have until October to voice our objections.

Next week: what local politicians have said about the TSPLOST. You’ll want to read this.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Fran Jackson
January 10, 2012
My comment doesn't belong with the 9/16/11 blog, but I'll post here anyways. Saw the short article about Laura going on a leave for a while. She will be missed. She is an insightful, interesting writer and I truly looked forward to the Sun. MDJ's to read her column. She wrote about real things that related to real people.

Hurry back, Laura!!! You will be missed.
Laura Armstrong
September 16, 2011
Setzler's idea to use Hwy 41 the way they did with Peachtree Industrial Blvd going north is a great one, with the added benefit of probably revitalizing many of the shoddy looking properties along the way. The Cobb Chamber, if it was inclined to represent ALL Cobb business and development and not just the wealthy, could really get behind such a plan. Cobb Pkwy is like a wasteland unless you want a car, and even those businesses are closing. How about revitalization there, spurred by Setzler's idea at just a fraction of the cost of rail where no one wants it? Just a late thought.
August 30, 2011

I see the same things you see. The argument of sprawl vs rail vs whatever can go on forever, but many of us sought and wish to retain a suburban lifestyle.

Our economists and politicians do not know how to maintain a stable economy without population growth.States and counties compete for old businesses these days without a lot of new businesses, thus moving jobs from point A to point B without creating new jobs.

This is only a guess on the Acworth elderly housing--but--actually senior citizens very often bring contributions to an area without aa lot of costs. School costs per student in Cobb are estimated at $8800 per student year. This is a cost that must be spread over time as it is too high to be paid each year. While the seniors do not pay school tax, they do not incur them either.

It is possible that medium income, senior housing, based on density can add to the property tax collections far more than they use.Just guessing.

As to Wellstar--I need to know more about it.The mayor of Acworth needs to release more information on that.

I share your concerns about government subsidized anything.
August 30, 2011
Take a look at the number of empty condos and high rise "properties" available in Atlanta, and it's obvious that the people who live there are already there right now. Look at the depressed values. People in Cobb came here for backyards and a suburban lifestyle. They did not come here for in-town living, railways to nowhere and, sorry to say, government subsidized anything.

What's this massive elderly housing planned in Acworth? Do people want that? Do they want to support it? Not to put down the elderly, but this plan the mayor has hatched (to attract WellStar? to attract government dollars?) is something I'll be no one knows about.
August 29, 2011
Splost II = pork

vote no!
August 28, 2011
The Alinsky method in action, attack the writer/speaker to win a point.

"Wow you have absolutley no understanding of traffic do you"

"Because history, and facts (not your ignorant assumptions) show us the complete opposite of what you are trying to point out."

I point out again, I was not addressing the highway system and you are correct about that.

You do not bother to point out that the rail systems proposed in cities that are doing this are doing it in areas that were blighted by the highway construction, You are mixing apples and oranges. I repeat, again, you seem to have missed it--the Loop, the Bronx, the street traffic is as heavy as it was before the construction of the rail It destroyed neighborhoods every but as much as rail. You are wrong about the Big Dig. The Dig itself was handled and managed very poorly, but much of it is underground, It goes int Southie (my home town) where property is selling for 300-400 a square foot. If it had been above ground it would have destroyed Southie, Dorchester and a few other communities.

If the plan was to build a subway system, cost aside, I would be far less reluctant to rail.

In Boston, wherever the rail is underground--property values are good, both residential and commercial. In communities in NJ, Long Island and other where rail was there before most of the people, the values hold.

When light rail and development is brought to a blighted area along with sidewalks, greenery and new mixed construction, it works, otherwise it creates blight itself.

August 28, 2011

Thank you for being a watchdog on this boondoggle. Also thanks to Ed Setzler and a couple of others. Those who are interested in implementing this program are those few who will benefit from it.

Also, to be fair to some others, there are many who find the density of a NYC or a Chicago to their liking, that could be the reason that they see any benefit in this plan. However, I believe most people moved to Cobb, as I did, for the suburban, if not , rural, atmosphere and do not wish to be caught up in the supposed benefits of urban growth. (That usually includes more crowding, a rise in crime, property tax increases as the infrastructure requires more tax dollars to support and urban-ification--you know, where people cut lines, push and shove as they do in NYC and other big cities.

Why don;t the residents who favor this rail solution, simply move into the Atlanta MARTA transportation area and let the rest of us live in peace as we tolerate the commute problems as a price we pay to enjoy the blessings of suburbia.
August 28, 2011
The best idea I have seen on this site is the elevated idea, running down the middle of a highway, say Cobb Pkwy which is already commercial zoned. In Colorado, they are studying the program. They call them elevated guideways. And, if as another poster wrote in the past week or so, the structure was to go down Rte 41, Cobb Pkwy, it would minimally impact property values , since it is mostly business now. All the other problems remain, parking, stations,how many where and at what cost? Every merchant will want a stop in front of his store.

Nonetheless, a much better staring point than paying for Fulton or Atlanta to benefit.
August 26, 2011 are right on!

Once the rail is built, just watch the mad rush for companies to snatch up commercial property along the track.

What exactly is the plan anyway.....light rail, heavy rail? If it's light rail, that's even better...more stations. Just watch the economic impact of businesses around the stations!
August 26, 2011

Wow you have absolutley no understanding of traffic do you? If you did you would know that it is roads that destroy properties and neighborhoods and it has been found time and time again that rail (especially light rail) increases property values.

If what you are saying is true. Then the Cross Bronx Expressway wouldnt have destroyed the Bronx and Harlem (one a working class burb, the other an affluent one). Independence Blvd and I-277 wouldnt have lead to the blight Charlotte faced until just a few years ago (improved in part due to light rail). L.A's worst neighborhoods wouldnt border expressways and freeways. Chicago's west and south sids wouldnt be as bad as they were (ruined by interstates, after most of the neighborhoods were at once the most affluent places in the city.) Boston's big dig wouldnt have had catastrophic effects on property values. San Francisco wouldnt have decided to tear down their freeway after the earthquake, rather than fix it. Louisville wouldnt be attempting to dismantle their inner city freeway. Minneapolis wouldnt be capping theirs with green space. Get it? Good. Because history, and facts (not your ignorant assumptions) show us the complete opposite of what you are trying to point out.

In regards to financial failures, how much of a profit do roads make? Thats right, none. In fact the gas tax barely covers 50% of costs, the same ration fare box collections present for transit systems.
August 25, 2011

and anyone who is interested-- there has never been a rail system, light, medium or heavy that has not been a financial failure.

The destruction of home values and the decline of neighborhoods are a direct product of, not only rail, but any public transport.

The light rail system being discussed will, like most, benefit a few at the expense of many.

As to Anonymous and his/her growth prediction, and this is not the 60s comment. Why don't you espouse to the rest of us how that is a good thing??? There are many of us who do not think it is a good thing and are even more repulsed by the idea that we are being forced to pay for something we oppose.--
August 24, 2011
anonymous wrote on Wednesday, Aug 24 at 01:43 PM, should not believe all the blather your KSU professors are feeding you. Hitler fed blather to German citizens who believed it and repeated it and later helped exterminate millions of people .

August 24, 2011
We are in a big city ATLANTA, who cares what Cobb gets or what Fulton gets, it's all part of a larger transportation plan. This is not the 60's when Cobb was a rural community separate from Atlanta. It is really dumb to think otherwise. In 10 years we will in the middle of the city with Cherokee and Paulding as major communities. At that point you will be screaming for mass transit and will look back at neanderthals like Armstrong as the reason you will be in gridlock almost24X7.
August 24, 2011
===========IT'S SMARTA===========
to BigSUV
August 24, 2011
You sir, are obviously employed by the Chamber or the Cumberland CID.

Have you never been to NYC or Washington, DC? Have you by chance commuted there? They have rail, and their highways and streets are STILL worse than Atlanta. Rail is NOT going to help.

And, if you went through 18 lights in 6 miles, imagine how many lights it will take me to get from Dallas Hwy near the Avenues all the way to Cumberland -- no direct route. You gotta be kidding! And even if the line came all the way out to Acworth.. what? I'm going to go 10 miles north to turn around and journey 30 miles south? That would only take about three hours.

NO. This tax is solely for the policitians at that round table. They are going to be much despised before this is all over.
August 24, 2011
"If one county votes the TSPLOST down but it’s approved overall among the ten, we’ll still be stuck paying on everything purchased for the next decade."

To rub salt in the wound, if the overall TSPLOST passes but any particular county votes it down that particular county's residents will be punished further. I really HATE bully and that's what the State and the promoters of this project are. See below for details:

"So even if voters in a particular county reject the tax, if their neighboring counties all approve it, then everybody in the region pays it.

The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates the tax would generate $7 billion to $8 billion over the 10-year span.

But in what appears to be a no-win situation for anti-tax activists, counties will have to pay a greater share of state “local maintenance and improvement” road grants if the roundtable can’t agree on a project list, or if the TSPLOST is rejected at the ballot box.

If the roundtable fails to agree on a project list and does not put the TSPLOST to a public vote at all, counties will have to pay 50 percent of the cost of state road projects. They now pay 10 percent, with the state kicking in the balance.

And if voters reject the special sales tax in 2012, counties will have to kick in 30 percent toward state road projects.

Should voters approve the tax, local matches will stay at 10 percent."
August 22, 2011
-- BigSUV2 wrote on Monday, Aug 22 at 04:37 PM »

You obviously missed my point... --

NOPE. Just noticed that you were clearly confused about lite rail. Figured there was also a good chance you were confused about the traffic lights.

August 22, 2011
You obviously missed my point. There are 18 lights! I understand your logic about GREEN, but realize that means someone else is waiting on RED in the opposite direction.

The Atlanta area keeps growing. More growth means more cars. You could keep adding lanes, but the population growth would keep up and you would never see relief.

Rail is the only real answer to ease traffic problems in a city the size of Atlanta.
August 22, 2011
-- BigSUV wrote on Monday, Aug 22 at 10:53 AM » I drive a six mile route each day and stop at 18 traffic lights. --

If they are GREEN you can go on thru them without stopping.
August 22, 2011
In 2026 when gas prices are $20 a gallon and you can't afford to drive your big SUV down to a Braves game, you'll be crying for light rail.

Our road system looks like the webbing on a cantaloupe. It's going to fill in so much, that gridlock will be the eventual result. I drive a six mile route each day and stop at 18 traffic lights.

It's a good thing that some people have the ability to plan a city for the distant future and not just tomorrow.
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