Two local groups are in the midst of presenting opposing views to Southern Crescent area residents regarding the upcoming Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) referendum, scheduled for a vote on July 31.
The Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee hosted supporters of the legislation, Thursday, during a luncheon meeting regarding the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (TIA). The act calls for a T-SPLOST referendum, which advocates a 1-cent sales tax to fund $6.14 billion in road projects over 10 years, for a 10-county area that includes Henry and Clayton counties. A 21-member regional roundtable, made up of county and city leaders, unanimously approved the projects list on Oct. 13, 2011.
Chamber President Kay Pippin described the luncheon as an informational session, to assist in passing the referendum. She said momentum is beginning to pick up in support of the T-SPLOST, but that people must educate themselves on the issue.
“No one wants ill-informed voters, regardless of their position,” Pippin said. “Everyone who both supports and opposes the referendum should be certain that their position is based on fact.”
Bert Brantley is spokesman for the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network (MAVEN), a non-partisan organization geared toward informing the public about the T-SPLOST referendum. He said education is the key to helping people decide on the issue.
“The chances [of passing the referendum] are only as good as our efforts to get out and let people know about it,” said Brantley. “So, we’ve got to get out and let them know what’s going on. The more they find out about it, people are more willing to listen, and learn more, and do work on their own to find out as well.
“MAVEN will not advocate one side or the other,” Brantley continued. “All we’re doing is coming out and presenting information about the referendum, so that people can make up their own minds.”
Atlanta is expected to add 3 million more people by 2040. Brantley said Georgia ranks 48th in the nation for capital transportation expenditures, and that the metropolitan Atlanta region is the ninth-most congested in the U.S.
He added that many in Georgia agree that traffic gridlock exists in the region, and that passing the referendum could present a solution.
“If it does not pass, then we’ve got to figure out what we do,” Brantley said. “The legislature came up with this regional approach. If we don’t do this, then what are the other options? Do we increase the gas tax? A lot of people say it’s too high already. Do we do more toll roads? A lot of people don’t like toll roads. Do we just do nothing, and let traffic get worse, and potentially impact our businesses and our job creation? ... If it fails, we’ve got to go back and figure out what we do. It’ll be a big challenge.”
June Wood, Georgia Power’s Metro South External Affairs Manager, was among more than 20 attendees at the Chamber’s support luncheon.
“We know that transportation is a critical infrastructure for job growth, and for continued prosperity in our state,” Wood said.
The message that will be delivered to Georgia Power’s 8,000 employees is “there is no plan B, regarding transportation.”
Developer J.T. Williams is glad road-widening projects on Ga. Highway 23/42, and Ga. Highway 155 are on the list.
“There’s no other money in the foreseeable future to help with those two projects, except for this referendum,” said Williams. “This is going to be a big economic generator. It’s going to help bring jobs, not only for Henry County but for the whole Atlanta region.”
In the meantime, another meeting, which challenges the T-SPLOST, will be held, next Monday, at 7 p.m., in the Community Room of the Henry County Government Annex, in 116 Zack Hinton Pkwy., McDonough. The event is being organized by a group calling itself the Henry County 9-12 Project.
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, is scheduled to speak. He said he opposes the T-SPLOST referendum, because of its “horrible” projects list.
“The whole purpose of the Transportation Investment Act legislation was to relieve traffic congestion,” said Brown. “I’m 100 percent for that. Unfortunately, the list of projects does very little to relieve traffic congestion.
“There’s an over-reliance on mass transit in this current project list,” he continued. “Fifty-two percent of the regional funds, which equates to $3.2 billion, will go to mass transit, which is used by less than five percent of all commuters. I just think that’s a travesty.”
Brown added that several organizations in the Atlanta region are seeking to educate the public about the T-SPLOST, but that they are doing so without discussing pitfalls of the proposed legislation.
Pippin said organizers of the Project 9-12 meeting should work to ensure that supporters and detractors of the legislation are heard.
“Commissioner Brown is known for his opposition to the referendum,” said Pippin. “If the organizers of this event want to assure that all the facts are presented, then, hopefully, they will also invite a spokesperson in support of the referendum.”