Metro Atlanta Chamber focused on passing regional transportation sales tax

By Maria Saporta

The executive committee meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber turned into a pep rally to pass the regional one-cent sales tax Thursday morning.

Several of the business executives who have been raising money for the transportation sales tax campaign attended the meeting and urged executive committee members to put a full-court press to get it passed on July 31.

Tom Bell, a past chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, explained that about 350,000 and 400,000 people are expected to vote on the July 31 primary.

“We need to identify 250,000 people who will come out and vote,” Bell said. “We have the capability of doing that.”

Among the ideas tossed around at the meeting including companies helping educate their workforce on the need for a transportation sales tax and then giving their employees time go vote on that day or encourage them to send in absentee ballots or vote early.

Paul Garcia, CEO with Global Payments, said business leaders needed to understand “how incredibly important it is and how the city has to come together” to pass the tax.

“We have got to do this,” Garcia said after the meeting. “This is our chance to actually take some concrete steps to take us where we want to be.”

Garcia said that the sentiment in the community has been positive, but the executives also realize that “there are those who are opposed to any tax for any reason.”

Carol Tomé, the 2012 chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the chief financial officer for Home Depot, called the vote “generational” and critical to the region’s future. At the same time, the chamber is putting together a new strategic economic development plan with assistance from the Boston Consulting Group. Passing the transportation tax is an important piece in laying the foundation for the region’s economic prosperity, Tomé said.

Bell put it another way.

“If we don’t win, it is like putting up a big sign on the interstate: ‘Don’t Come Here,’” Bell said. “If we do win, it’s a transition point. It would say that Atlanta is coming back, that we are doing what we have to do to succeed.”

Currently, the business community has raised about 75 percent of its goal to finance the transportation campaign. Although he wasn’t specific, Doug Hertz, president of United Distributors and a key part of the team raising money, said the campaign is on track and that he hopes they will be able to raise significantly more than the goal.

It has been previously reported that the group has raised about $6 million, and it is understood that the goal is slightly more than $8 million. Ideally, the campaign team would love to be able to raise $10 million.

“It’s incredibly important to the future success and vibrancy of the city,” Hertz said. “It’s on the top of our list of short-term priorities. And it will have a long-term impact.”

It is estimated that a 10-year penny sales tax in the Atlanta region would raise a total of $7.1 billion. A regional roundtable of government leaders has approved a project list for about $6 billion — of which 52 percent would be invested in transit projects and the remaining would be invested primarily n roads. Some funding also would go toward an airport in Cobb County and bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout the region.

The tax also would allow each of the local governments to spend the remaining 15 percent of the tax revenues on transportation projects within their cities or counties.

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