And yet, those who make that argument are already paying a tax, right along with the rest of us. They just don’t realize it.
On July 31, voters in Cobb County will cast ballots on a $980 million investment for Cobb County alone that will untie our snarled traffic mess, create thousands of new jobs and help our region compete for businesses and prosperity with other regions across the nation. The $980 million will be raised through a one-penny sales levy to make hundreds of road and transit improvements in our county. Additionally, our city and county governments will also receive a $170 million direct investment for local transportation priorities over the next 10 years.
Detractors cite several reasons for their opposition. Some don’t trust government, but transportation is as much a function of government as national defense. Others don’t like the list of improvements — even though more than 200,000 citizens participated in drafting the list that received unanimous approval from a disparate group of our region’s leaders. 16,900 of those participants were from Cobb County.
Finally, there are those who oppose new taxes, and as a lifelong, anti-tax conservative, I can certainly understand their position. But we’re already paying a congestion tax — and it’s real, uncontrollable and will continue to grow if we fail to invest in regional transportation.
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, time stuck in traffic costs the average metro Atlanta commuter $924 a year in wasted fuel and lost time. This congestion tax is the worst kind of tax because it’s uncontrollable. It knows no boundaries. It rises in direct proportion to fuel prices and traffic snarls. It depletes our collective productivity. It takes precious time from our families. It steals dollars from our pockets — and nobody voted for it.
And the congestion tax is actually more costly than economists’ conservative estimates. Economists haven’t factored the extent to which the congestion tax discourages new businesses from locating in our region and creating new jobs. They haven’t factored the extent to which we pay higher prices for everything from food to refrigerators due to the higher cost of shipping goods in our region. Nor have they factored the drain on home values as prospective homebuyers choose locations with less traffic.
The Regional Transportation Referendum gives us a first shot at getting the congestion tax under control — and at considerably less than $924 a year. An additional penny will cost the average consumer an estimated $112 annually. In exchange, they’ll get traffic relief, more income-producing time at work and more leisure time at home.
“Infrastructure is one of the core responsibilities of government and one that cannot be shortchanged by other controversial spending,” Douglas R. Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, recently wrote in response to an opponent of the referendum. “I believe investment in infrastructure pays dividends for decades and is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars.”
Investing in regional transportation will not only relieve the congestion tax, it will also spark tens of thousands of new jobs, reduce time spent stuck in traffic, improve home values in traffic-snarled communities, and give us all an opportunity to be more productive at work and at home.
This isn’t a choice between no tax and a new tax. It’s a choice between public investment that will create jobs and attract businesses such as Caterpillar, and an uncontrollable congestion tax that will send jobs and businesses packing to regions that are making visionary investments in their growth and prosperity.
John Watson, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, is a senior advisor to Citizens for Transportation Mobility.