T-SPLOST and the nonexistent Plan B for transportation in Georgia

In a post last July before the inevitable failure of T-SPLOST here in the coastal region and in much of the state, I argued a number of points in favor of the new sales tax, including:

  • There could be a Plan B if the T-SPLOST referenda around the state are widely defeated, but I’ll tell you what that Plan B will be: Republican grandstanding about taxes and a refusal to raise the gasoline tax, thus leading to continued cuts for local project funding. Desperate for safer bridges on the road to Tybee? Desperate to get out of the train-induced gridlock over on 21? Desperate to see some forward movement on Project DeRenne? You might quite literally have to wait a generation to see those projects completed without the T-SPLOST.
  • As the state’s population and political power is increasingly in the Atlanta area, we’ll inevitably see less and less money being sent to the rest of the state.
  • From the AJC’s T-SPLOST: Plan B? Not this year:

    “I haven’t seen any meaningful action at all,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which raised millions to promote the $7.2 billion regional transportation sales tax. “The people who beat the drum so loudly on T-SPLOST have come up way short, with nothing as far as I’ve heard.”

    Meanwhile, in one year, the average Atlanta-area commuter wastes 51 hours stuck in traffic, costing the region $3.1 billion in wasted time and fuel, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll after the referendum, more than 60 percent of respondents said traffic congestion is a major problem, and they are willing to pay for the right fix.

    Some Plan Bs advertised during the campaign included restructuring the gas tax or empowering counties to voluntarily band together to fund transportation projects. Another was to simply come back in 2014 with a new and better project list for the 10-county Atlanta region the Legislature created for the purposes of the T-SPLOST. (The same law that defined the region held out the option of a re-do.)

    Foes of the T-SPLOST touted their alternatives via television and radio broadcasts, blog posts, debates, local papers and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We can solve this in other ways. There is a Plan B,” then-Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a key leader on the conservative opposition, said at one forum.

    The piece explores the various reasons and rationalizations for nothing getting done regarding transportation funding during the just-concluded Georgia legislative session. It’s a rather sad documentation of the utter failure of T-SPLOST opponents to push other options in the Atlanta area and, by extension, the state as a whole.

    So we’re going to see transportation funding priorities continue to be set in Atlanta, with even more power than ever in the hands of the governor (emphasis added):

    That leaves transportation initiatives largely up to Deal.

    He and the state’s transportation staff are trying to figure out how to focus what money there is on a few highway projects, such as new optional toll lanes and the interchange at Ga. 400 and I-285. His budget also includes state money to keep some commuter buses running.

    One bill that did pass this session put even more leverage in the governor’s hands. It eliminated an old requirement that federal transportation money be divided up by political district rather than by transportation priorities.

    As to supporting major new funding, Deal said on the last day of the session, “That remains to be seen.”

    I really don’t see how we get through this political dysfunction until a much larger percentage of voters understands that there simply isn’t money to address the very real transportation needs that we face.