If the TSPLOST referendum is approved, metro area residents will pay a 1 percent sales tax on most purchases for the next decade. In light of the propensity for government construction projects to take forever to complete and run way over budget; and due to the necessity to fund future maintenance and operation costs of the possible rail and bus lines proposed, it’s a sure thing that even if the TSPLOST passes on Tuesday, that a decade hence area taxpayers will be asked for a 10-year sales tax extension, and most likely another one 10 years after that.
Just call the TSPLOST “the tax that came for dinner and never left.”
EVEN TSPLOST SUPPORTERS now concede the project list will not cure congestion in Cobb or the metro region — or even reduce it significantly. They admit that if it’s built “the other guy” will ride the rail cars or buses, thereby reducing congestion for you on the highway. And what was initially portrayed to the public as a visionary transportation initiative has now metamorphosed into a grandiose public works program. A “stimulus” program, if you will.
There’s no question that we have severe transportation challenges in this area, and no doubt that the TSPLOST would provide plenty of jobs in coming years as the new infrastructure was added. But would those jobs be the best use of tax dollars? No. Taxpayers don’t mind paying for public works projects when they fulfill an obvious need. Yet despite our traffic problems, most Cobb residents are yet to be persuaded that most of the projects that would be funded by the TSPLOST — especially the big-ticket items, like the “premium” bus service and the possible rail line — are truly needed. Rather, they see the TSPLOST as a thinly veiled taxpayer subsidy to deep-pocketed business and development interests, and would also mean the loss of local control over county road improvements.
COBB Commission Chairman Tim Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, who represented Cobb on the metro committee that compiled the TSPLOST project list, erred badly when they signed off on plans to build a tremendously expensive light rail line from the MARTA Arts Center Station in Midtown northward to Cumberland Mall. Only about a mile of the track would be in Cobb, and thus the bulk of Cobb’s TSPLOST dollars would have been spent in Fulton County.
The rail line is viewed by many as the pet project of well-connected Galleria and Cobb Chamber of Commerce interests, eager for a direct rail link to the Atlanta airport and Atlanta job market. Moreover, foes point out that metro Atlanta has the lowest density per square mile of any metro area in the world that has a population of greater than 2.5 million people. We simply lack the density to support such a rail line. And the massive amounts of tax dollars that would be poured into rail and/or premium buses would hamstring our future ability to address the rest of our transportation needs.
As state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-north Cobb) has noted, passage of the TSPLOST would translate to an additional $3,500 in taxes for every household in metro Atlanta over the next decade, or roughly $350 per household per year. And the cost in communities that generally are higher on the economic scale, like Cobb, would be even greater.
Moreover, traffic congestion is much worse on Interstate 285 eastward from the I-75 junction at the Galleria than it is southward on I-75 south of that junction. So the rail line was an attempt to solve what is by far the lesser of the two problems. Had the rail line been slated for the 285 corridor instead, it would have found more support. And had the rail construction been slated to start in Acworth and move southward, perhaps in conjunction with a north-bound construction effort from the Midtown station (with a linkup somewhere in between, a la The Transcontinental Railroad), that also might have found more public buy-in. As it is, many suspect that even if the Midtown-to-Galleria rail is built, funding would never be forthcoming for the leg northward to Acworth.
After the rail proposal was shellacked by the public, Lee backtracked, saying the money would most likely go to pay for “premium bus service” in the I-75 corridor. Meanwhile, county officials are awaiting the results of the “Alternatives Analysis” study, which will make recommendations on what type transit would be best suited. Unfortunately, and incredibly, that study will not be complete until after county residents have voted Tuesday. Can you say “pig in a poke”? And according to knowledgeable TSPLOST opponents, if the AA study recommends rail instead of premium buses, Cobb’s TSPLOST dollars would easily be shifted back to pay for rail, and without any say from the public.
ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY HEARD ARGUMENTS made on TSPLOST’s behalf in recent days was “It’s not the perfect project list, but …” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. In fact, it’s like saying that of one’s future bride that, “She’s not the wife I had hoped for, but …”
And we suspect that by Tuesday evening it will be abundantly clear that this was not the transportation fix that Cobb residents wanted and is not a tax they want to pay … and pay … and pay.