Another forum for both sides of T-SPLOST
by Jon Gillooly
July 24, 2012 01:06 AM | 7985 views | 43 43 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(MDJ Staff/Todd Hull)
(MDJ Staff/Todd Hull)
Marietta residents Julie and Ralph Kytan listen to both sides at Monday's forum. <br> (MDJ Staff/Todd Hull)
Marietta residents Julie and Ralph Kytan listen to both sides at Monday's forum.
(MDJ Staff/Todd Hull)
EAST COBB — State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) revealed a conversation he had with a metro Atlanta leader desperate to expand the MARTA rail system beyond Fulton and DeKalb counties so the other counties in the region would be financially vested in supporting the urban rail network.

Setzler, chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, shared his comments during a town hall meeting at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in east Cobb hosted by Commissioner Bob Ott on Monday evening.

More than 300 people turned out to listen as TSPLOST proponents and opponents answered questions from the audience for about an hour and a half.

“I can tell you I had a very prominent leader in this region, he’s a friend of mine — I completely disagree with him on this issue — he said, ‘Ed, all I want to do is I want to get a transit (line) outside of Fulton and DeKalb county. I don’t care how big it is or what it looks like, then we’ve got the regional governance, then all the counties — Cobb, Cherokee — are all brought in, are all funding the same system,’” Setzler shared, adding, “Friends, that is not a win-win for us.”

One of the topics of the evening was the largest expenditure on Cobb’s TSPLOST project list: $689 million earmarked for “enhanced premium transit service” from Acworth to the MARTA Arts Center Station in Midtown, which county chairman Tim Lee said will be used for bus rapid transit and may be upgraded to light rail with federal funding.

Representing the pro-TSPLOST side with WSB Radio’s Capt. Herb Emory, Marietta attorney Chuck Clay feigned ignorance of such a rail line.

“Last time I checked the existing project list, there’s no rail in it,” Clay said. “There’s $700 million for bus rapid transit and express routes from Acworth to Midtown. … I don’t see any rail.”

Setzler and transportation activist Ron Sifen of Vinings explained how rail factors in.

“There is rail transit in the TSPLOST and this project — Project 035 — has explicit language that allows this project to morph into light rail just simply based on the recommendation of the (county’s) Alternatives Analysis study that is under way right now, and that study is almost certainly going to recommend light rail, and light rail, like I said, will cost at least $3 billion, $2.3 billion of which is not funded in the TSPLOST, and the only place to get it is to come back to you for even more tax increases,” Sifen told the crowd.

Even if the county’s transportation study says to stay with bus rapid transit, Setzler argued, that is $689 million for a bus route.

“We have buses that run from Acworth to downtown today,” Setzler said. “Why would we need to spend $700 million on buses to provide the same service we provide today? … So if it’s about buses and the Alternatives Analysis recommends buses, it is a $700 million breathtaking waste, by my reasoning.”

But if the AA recommends light rail, just take a look at MARTA, Setzler said.

“MARTA is hemorrhaging dollars,” Setzler said. “MARTA is begging for the broader metro area to help them fund their operations. If MARTA can’t fund themselves with rail, why would we want to build rail for ourselves thinking that the reality is going to be any different? Friends, Cobb County makes smart decisions. We as a metro region need to make smart decisions. But in doing that we can’t work around places where we know it’s not going to work and where it’s going to serve 2 percent of the population of a county of 700,000 people.”

Better to vote down the list on July 31 and come back in two years’ time with a better list, Setzler and Sifen argued.

Yet Emory said voting down the referendum would just delay any traffic relief.

“You’re going to have to go through all this again,” Emory said. “You’re going to have all these meetings again. You’re going to have all these lists circulating again. We’re going to go through all these elections again. It’s just going to be two years later down the road, and you’re going to sit in traffic for two more years while you wait.”

Clay said it wouldn’t be so easy as revisiting the list in two years.

“If you’re against it, vote it down, but don’t do it under the pretense that we’re all going to run back down in a great ‘Kumbaya’ and have 50-plus-one join together,” Clay said. “Go ask Gov. Deal how active he’ll be on that one.”

Setzler also pointed to the massive advertising campaign under way to sway voters to approve the tax.

“The reason we’re seeing $8 million of spending trying to convince you this is a good list is imagine this, there’s $8 million being spent on advertising, $8 billion on projects. That’s a 1,000 to 1 return on the advertising dollar. Think for a moment. Imagine your granddaughter has a lemonade stand, she spends $5 on advertising for the lemonade stand. And imagine in a Saturday afternoon she makes $5,000. That is the payoff for the interests putting money behind trying to convince us this will solve our problems. They have every right to do that. But we as citizens need to be wise enough to understand why there is so much money behind supporting this even though the project list stinks. It won’t solve our problems. I’m not going to name names. I won’t do that. But I want you to think this through. The reason you’re seeing these dollars being spent is there is a breathtaking amount of money on the backside of this.”

Emory responded to this argument by saying he was not making any money for attending the forum on Monday.

“WSB is not paying me,” Emory said. “I came here on my own. So it’s got nothing to do with 5-to-1 return with me. Fact is it would be better if you vote it down because then I’ve got more job security, I’ll tell you that right now.”

The Cumberland to Midtown rail line was not the only project that raised eyebrows.

“As cool as I think the Beltline project would be, as cool as I think a trolley is, it’s not about traffic relief. That doesn’t take one car off the road. It doesn’t solve traffic relief,” Setzler said about the projects on Atlanta’s list.

Setzler also said there is a $600 million line item in the project list that would allow for bankrolling of MARTA salaries and operations.

In response, Clay emphasized that the TSPLOST is a regional effort.

“We can have paralysis by analysis,” Clay said. “We can wait for that great divining tablets to come down from the sky saying, ‘this is traffic relief, this isn’t,’ but I’m going to tell you something. There’s some folks in Atlanta — and I personally think what they do with their share of the dollars is up to Atlanta — but I suspect there’s some pretty smart profound people in Atlanta that also can tell you we think the Beltline is very much having to do with our overall traffic plan. Look people, we’ve got a local Cobb SPLOST. We’ve had them for years. And what it really sounds like from a number of folks is you just want another Cobb SPLOST. And I get it. And if that’s all you want then this regional approach, the next regional approach, and the tenth regional approach is never going to satisfy anybody’s idea of perfection in this room. Count on it.”

Following the town hall, Ott said he thought the evening went well.

“We did a head count and we had about 300 to 320 people, which is a phenomenal turnout I think if you consider it’s still summer vacation,” Ott said. “I think everyone was well behaved. They were polite regardless of the side they were on. The main purpose was to get people educated and get them to understand that there’s an important vote on July 31.”
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Mike O. Bedenbaugh
July 26, 2012
You know what gets me is that the private enterprise ATLANTA TRANSIT BUS SYSTEM (privately owned) did quite well from horse and buggy days with cab companies until Government; City of Atlanta and Dekalb County got into the act; bought out the bus company and started MARTA. Read the history of Atlanta Transit Bus System. In other words PRIVATE ENTERPRISE worked because they have to make a profit to survive ---- GOVERNMENT DOES NOT is the problem. We need the outer belt loop to divert trucks and tourist; but Atlanta would lose the tourist dollar which is not going to stop in Atlanta in the first place; around Atlanta if they are going from South Carolina and East Coast to Tenn. and Ala. or points west to connect I-85 to I-575, I-75 and I-20. Do the same on the south side. More lanes will not solve the problem look at the inner section of I-85 and I-75 thru Atlanta and I-285 with the local traffic. This was why Atlanta and the state banned tractor trailer trucks inside Atlanta (I-285) unless they could byshow they had business there. This was in the works in the 1970s and early 1980s until the inner powers derailed it for FEAR of losing tourist dollars. IT IS STILL A PERFECT PLAN. As for the two years alluded to By Clay the projects will not be off the drawing board within two years. It took FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FROM 1962 TO THE LATE 1970S TO GET I-75 NORTH OF ATLANTA.

D man
July 25, 2012
I believe we do need road improvements but politicians have taken the easy way out by putting a new tax on the ballot. We are already giving the government trillions of dollars to use for whatever they feel is most important. If they want to improve roads then take money away from a lesser important program or project and use it for road improvements. It IS THAT SIMPLE. What is more important, paying for the “arts” or new roads? Paying for a new stadium or new roads? Paying for anything that is not as important as new roads or new roads? Stop asking me for more money. I already pay about 50cents of every dollar I make to the government in taxes. If you politicians are too lazy to do your job of better managing our money, then step aside and let someone else try.
Bob Bummer
July 25, 2012
I feel confident that the Tsplost money will be used for projects many do not approve of or just plain wasted. The government will say anything at this point (lie) to get us to vote yes. They have done it before on GA 400. The toll will only last until 2010 and it is still a toll road. I don't care what Deal says about it coming down in 2013 the lie has already happened.
JR in Mableton
July 24, 2012
Didn't Seltzer vote for the TIA legislation? Also, is he admitting that his campaign donors benefit directly from supporting him? Maybe the campaign has $6 million because the business community understands the importance of this decision....

When is Sifen going to publish his plan as the anti-TSPLOST leader?.......projects, financing plan, and political strategy. If you are such an expert, publish your plan!

If the TSPLOST passes, do the contractors still have to bid on the projects? Of course they do.......
one eye
July 24, 2012
There is nothing good about the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, and the project list is an insult to the intelligence of the voters. Read HB277 and count the times "appointed" turns up. The Appointed work for the appointor not taxpayers. The project list includes:

$115 Million to study more rail

$602 Million for 5 miles of the 22 mile Atlanta Belt line

$685 Million for premium Transit Bus or Rail

$1.462 Billion to bring MARTA to a state of good repair

$22.86 Million for 10ft sidewalks

$47 Million plus $30 Million from the Fed to the $195 Million already allocated to Windy Hill I-75 interchange

$200 Million to paint bike lanes in Dekalb

Read the list for your self and you can find more wasteful spending of your money.

I can not take a leap of faith and trust the politically connected with $8.5 Billion tax dollars to spread around to their friends.

Vote NO

No planning in 1950
July 24, 2012
Whoever was in charge back in 1950-1975 did not plan too well. If they had done so while dreaming of a better future for the Atlanta area, land which then was not that expensive, should have been purchased for the future. No - instead they just bought land and built for themselves and their friends. Making $$, who cares what happens 40 years down the road. Let "them" deal with it.
July 24, 2012
Tried to explain that to Trust a couple of days ago0. He said ir=t was drivel. Just like our federal administration, he believes you don't have to know how to do a job. You got it through patronage anyway.
mk-wrong projects
July 24, 2012
This list in no way addresses Atlanta's real traffic issues.

How are the politicians going to answer to the people in 3 years, when gridlock ensues & brings Atlanta's economy to a grinding halt?

The 5 billion dollar Panama Canal Expansion will be complete in late 2014.

Simultaneousely, the Port of Savanah widening will open to tankers from Asia. 650 million federal funds was committed this week --to fast track this.

These new ocean faring vessels will be unloaded at the port to be dispersed across 1/2 of the United States.

They will use I-95 and I-75 out of Savannah.

285 is bumper to bumper NOW, w/ trucks that should have an outer route around Atlanta. This won't be solved by ignoring it!!

Sidewalks, greenways, and beltlines should all be LOCAL & not included in regional transportation bills.

Interstate traffic should be addressed NOW showing a CLEAR PLAN that includes, bridges, overpasses, major corridors & truck bypass toll roads, w/ a 5 year 1% tax, put to the voters. Put to the voters every 5 years, as necessary.

In addition, a regional transit plan, w/ a clear vision of mass transit for metro Atlanta, should be separated out & put to a SEPARATE VOTE, SEPARATE TAX ! This should show options for different lines, costs and timelines.

Atlanta will need to grow mass transit, but only when voters can see the costs and results.

We have not been shown a true working mass transit plan for the Atlanta region.

This list as is, is a total failure & is going to doom Georgia.
Butter Bean
July 24, 2012
Them pro-SPLOST folks are gettin' slapped around like yard dogs in the public relations department and seem out of touch with us common folk....Face it boys, this SPLOST thing is about as popular as you know what floatin' in a punch bowl and no matter how much sugar you put in it - we ain't drinkin'.
TIA is a....
July 24, 2012
10 year SLUSH FUND!

Definition of SLUSH FUND-a fund raised for undesignated purposes, esp. for corrupt practices, including bribery and graft.
July 24, 2012
Oh Chucky Chucky
July 24, 2012
I thought the most entertainment parts was when Chuck Clay said "what the other counties do with their money they get shouldn't matter to us"! Really! What made this more entertaining is that Captain Herb said earlier "what happens in Cobb affects Douglas, what happens in Fulton affects Cobb"! Do you think they should have gotten together on this?
July 24, 2012
the $1 million "improvement" to 120 @ 120 loop has made motoring past the interchange on 120 worse- plus -the new medians make businesses difficult to enter and exit.

would adding lanes on windy hill at I-75 make rush hour traffic move easier? was anyone seen pedestrians at that interchange? would nicer sidewalks really entice people to walk windy hill near I-75?

vote to keep your money. vote NO TAX on july 31.
July 24, 2012
Take it easy on Chuckie and Cap'n Herb!

It is virtually impossible to defend the indefensible.

Hopefully a majority of the voters in the Metro area will not be influenced by the multi million dollar propaganda campaign being waged and will vote against this TSPLOST.
Cobb Toll
July 24, 2012
I think the best solution is the simplest, erect toll booths on I-75 and at I-85 at the 285 interchanges, and charge a flat 25 cent toll for all the Cobb, Gwinnett etc... commuters who want to come inside the perimiter for their job and fun. If they are simply trying to travel through, then they can use the perimeter to go around without having to pay a toll.

All the suburbanites need to realize that Atlanta is the economic engine of this state. If we can't get a viable solution to the traffic jams they cause with their daily commutes - then the companies and businesses that help them afford that McMansion and new Lexus, as well as Muffy's new set of TaTa's, will find a new place to call home!

And don't think that once those big corporate jobs are gone it won't impact the suburban small business people. The builders of the McMansions, the Lexus dealership and Muffy's TaTa Plastic Surgeon will all the feel the pain...and all because the suburbanites have a short-sighted mentality of "not in my backyard".
July 24, 2012
Go ahead and do that. See what worse happens to the Atlanta economy.
Show me kid
July 24, 2012
You are not the first to think this way-Maynard Jackson felt the same way when he was the mayor.

tired of it
July 24, 2012
Just another way to get our money, no one needs this SPLOST its just a way for the powers to be to get money in their pockets. anyone who votes for this is nieve to believe this is really a good thing.
July 24, 2012
"friends, we got trouble, right here in River City!" Such was the sound of Rep. Setzler like huckster Professor Harold Hill from the Music Man. Trying to scare the people, conjuring up images, long on hyperbole, yet short on specifics. Creating bogeymen of mysterious regional players saying things but not naming names.

Never once in the entire debate did Representative Setzler offer specifics about what projects he would propose be on the Plan B he says would be so easy to pass. How would he fund those projects. What group would determine what those projects would be. How would he get the votes in the legislature to get this process started. Would there be the poliltical will to do anything if this measure were to fail.

This leads me to believe he is not serious about solutions. He voted for the TIA in 2010 never thinking he would have to deal with a project list. Now he is seeking to kill the years of work that went into this process. A process he voted for yet he is offering no substantive alternitive solutions.

He is not serious about solving our traffic problems at all this is all politics for Representative Setzler.
July 24, 2012
Amaryllisssssss, you dear sweet shill for the chamber (thugs) and Tim Lee...why don't you tell us how that near one billion dollars in buses from Acworth is going to relieve all that traffic congestion you are concerned about? Then, tell us why that windy hill/75 re-do is only half funded in the TSPLOST? Pretty please?

July 24, 2012
Had you read Setzler's previous letters to the editor and copies of his words at meetings, you would be better informed. He did specify some details and you are playing the game of "I hope no one remembers what Setzler said in the past". It is an old technique that has been in heavy use since January of 2009.
Had Enough
July 24, 2012
Vote NO on July 31st!
Pat H
July 24, 2012
Thanks to the boy scout who informed us that Delta does not pay the 1% tax on its fuel, while other airlines do have to pay the money.

This is a huge amount of money lost to our treasury while the government supports winners and losers.

Demand that our State representatives reverse this pronto. They want us to pay another 1% to subsidize large salaries and profits at Delta.
Cobb Resident
July 24, 2012
I'm voted YES because politicians like Setzler have done nothing about traffic. This is the citizen's referendum and it takes power away from him and others at the gold dome. That is why he is against it.

He had his chance sitting on the transportation committee for years and has done nothing for Cobb County.

Proud of Captain Emory for being bold and challenging the status que.
July 24, 2012
Through all this debate, I grow more and more confused by the circular logic of those opposed to the T-SPLOST. They seem to be painting themselves into a corner.

First, they say there is some conspiracy rooted in this both improvng traffic AND creating if they have to be mutually exclusive. Throughout the life of this debate, those in favor of it have said it can do BOTH. What is wrong with this tax doing both when our economy is so slow in recovering?

It has been said that the true economic rebound should not come from government spending but from growth in the private sector. Business leaders - those people who are supposed to be creating the jobs - want the tax and are willing to contribute $8 million to lobby to get the tax passed. The Chamber of Commerce - who represents these businesses that are supposed to creat jobs - wants this tax.

TSPLOST opponents are against government spending to create jobs via this tax AND they are against business and the Chamber who are supposed to create the jobs. Who is left to rebuild the economy if government can't be trusted and neither can business?

As for opposition to seems very short-sighted. In 25 years, Cobb County is going to be a much older community...facts are facts - the Metro Atlanta area is aging. Many of us (whether we want to admit it or not) will not be driving. Will we wish we had invested in a transit system that is for all of us rather than trying to figure out how to get around on a underfunded mess that was only built to serve two counties? It is time we change our thinking on transit and look a little further down the road in our own lives.
July 24, 2012
In less than 5 to 10 years we baby boomers will have fled Cobb County to a better life style you will be here paying $12,000.00 a year in taxes like you use to in the Northeast. The medium income will have dropped all over Cobb County and you’ll have subsidized travel all over Cobb County it won’t be very safe but it’ll be there.
July 24, 2012

Obviously you still don't get it.

Most people opposing the TSPLOST are against it because the project list is flawed, not because they are opposed to finding a solution to our traffic issues.

I for one believe that the Roundtable, led astray by Mayor Kasim Reed's insistence on his pet project, The Atlanta Beltline Trolley, reverted into the same parochial focused mindset of trying to promote and fund their own favorite projects in their various jurisdictions.

The same attitude that got us into this position in the first place.

As a result we ended up with a fragmented, ineffective project list with only a few regional type projects on the list (i.e. 400/285; 20/285; Windy Hill Interchange)

After Mayor Reed made his selfish, shortsighted play there was little interest from the others in formulating an effective regional solution.

He inadverdantly undercut the basis for the entire initiative.

The Beltline should be one of the finishing touches, not one of the initial projects to be funded.

Going back and reconstituting the project list is the smart play given the bad hand we have been dealt.

Maybe this time the members of the Roundtable will not allow the Mayor of Atlanta undermine their efforts.

July 24, 2012
When you think of mass transit, think density.

New York has it. Chicago has it. Atlanta doesn't.

Atlanta has the lowest population density of any metropolitan area in the world having more than 2.5 million people.

Suburbanites will ultimately be paying for T-SPLOST. Do you really think that they will flock to mass transit, when the proposed solutions:

* Don't take them where they want to go?

* Don't reduce the time it takes them to accomplish their goals?

* Don't relieve traffic congestion?

* Will substantially increase their cost of living (i.e. the proposed one-cent increase equates to a 16% sales tax increase)?

* Will cost significantly more in maintenance and operations beyond the 10-year proposed levy?

As for age considerations - Do you really think that metro seniors are going to gravitate toward and live about Cobb Parkway? Likely not. More likely, your going to see many seniors remain in their comfortable suburban homes where what's left of their eroded equity remains. The bottom line is that seniors would still need to get in their cars to avail themselves of the "benefits" of mass transit.

Now... If only one could find the local Piggly Wiggly so they can pick up some denture cream.
not stuck
July 24, 2012

The money will be spent and jobs will be created, when there is money. It is called capitalism. If these trains and trolleys et al, could make money you would bet the private sector would be all over them. But they don't. All over the world, government run transit has to be subsidized with tax payers money.

What seems very short-sighted to me, the that very few of these projects will yield any result in a shorter traffic commute.

Amen to that
July 24, 2012
Amen to SG68's comment. I as well am not opposed to to something that helps traffic, but as always with government they want to push through projects that seem to benefit more "well connected" people then you and I. I still remember something I learned long ago at a business seminar "Do it right the first time for the duration of the assignment"
July 24, 2012
Light rail would be nice, but if MARTA is the example, it'll end up being a drain on our finances.

Why should repeating the past reap different results?
July 24, 2012
--RE: Marietta attorney Chuck Clay feigned ignorance of such a rail line.--

Yes he did...or he is incredibly clueless (even Faye DiMassimo will tell you rail is a possibility still, Chuck). Chuck Clay sure avoided talking facts...came off as a con man trying to sell a used car. Never once did Clay attempt to address/counter the points/facts that Ron Sifren carefully laid out. Clay just told us "there is no perfect plan" so just vote for a (near) billion dollars worth of buses now...otherwise we will have to wait two years (and that would be real bad for some reason).

Clay tells us what a great record Cobb county has in taking bold steps forward (by-itself) and then says we need to jump into the pot with a bunch of poorly run counties in the metro area (the region).

If he was being paid to spread his BS last night, Clay sure did not tell us. With community "leaders" like Clay, Cobb county needs to be very careful. Clay is a prime example of the scourge that has taken over the republican party, the Cobb Chamber and Cobb government leadership. Trust Clay and those like him only as far as you can throw him.

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