Letters to the Editor

September 19, 2005

Thoughts on the commuter rail

To the editor:

I speak with my own words in an attempt to clearly articulate my thoughts on the regional commuter rail. Let me begin by saying that I support the regional commuter rail! I have always and will always support commuter rail. Commuter rail has many benefits, and I hope and pray that Clayton County gets to experience every positive associated with commuter rail. Let me also say, I don't believe county taxpayers should fund the commuter rail's $4 million to $8 million annual deficit. Instead of a serious conversation on alternative ways to acquire money, all I have heard are ridiculous notions that dining cars, tourism and unplanned economic development can fill an annual $4 million to $8 million operating deficit. Anyone who understands that there has been no serious economic impact study that shows how the county can generate $4 million to $8 million annually cannot take comfort in "hoped for" tax revenue. In addition, anyone who understands that the train only runs before 9 a.m., after 5 p.m., and does not run on weekends will quickly see that using the train for tourism is utterly ridiculous. Benjamin Franklin stated that "énothing in this world is certain, but death and taxesé" and while some people want to go to the promised land, nobody wants more taxes.

The false argument is one that attempts to pit individuals, like myself, that are concerned with fiscal responsibility against the commuter rail. If you ask me if I like a Mercedes-BenzéI'll tell you yes. If you ask me if I can afford to pay for a Mercedes-BenzéI'll tell you I cannot afford it. We should not use property taxpayers as collateral for a commuter rail when we cannot afford the payments and do know where the money for payments are coming from, either.

The craziest thing about this debate is that County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell has stated that he agrees that taxpayers should not fund this deficit. What he and other rail proponents have not agreed to is the development of realistic alternative funding mechanism. I have assured Chairman Bell, Congressman David Scott and now I attempt to assure you that I support the regional rail, but do not support any agreement that obligates Clayton County taxpayers funding $4 million to $8 million to pay for it.

My opposition is isolated to this concern. In the future, let's talk about how to fund this deficit without the property taxpayers of Clayton County paying for this regional rail line. Clayton County citizens voted for us, but they did not give us a mandate to raise their taxes and force them to pay more money for extra-ordinary government services. If rail proponents are unwilling to relent in their zealous fascination with funding this train and are willing to put Clayton property taxpayer dollars at risk to fund the rail's deficit, then let's ask the state DOT Board to delay a vote until referendum legislation can be passed in January that allows the citizens of this county to determine if they are willing to raise their property taxes to pay for ité Let the people decide!

Clayton County

Commissioner Wole Ralph