By Maria Saporta
At the First Monday breakfast of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Georgia’s top economic development official made a passionate plea for the penny sales tax for regional transportation.
Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said passage of the tax would be key to the state’s ability to attract new companies and jobs over the next decade.
Twelve regions in the state will be voting on July 31 whether to approve the sales tax, which then would build a host of transportation projects in their individual areas. The tax must be approved by a majority of voters in each region in order for it to be implemented in a particular region.
If approved in metro Atlanta, the tax would raise about $7.2 billion in today’s dollars over the next 10 years. Those funds would be invested on an already approved list of transportation projects ranging from rail transit, bus transit, interchanges, roads, bicycle, pedestrian and even an airport investment in Cobb.
In his talk, Cummiskey acknowledged that there has been some controversy surrounding the regional transportation sales tax, including concerns in Cobb County on the building of a rail line from Midtown Atlanta to the Cobb Galleria area.
“The transportation initiative is somewhat polarizing,” Cummiskey said at the Monday morning breakfast about what he described as a “generational” decision. “No vote has an opportunity to make such a dramatic impact.”
Around Georgia’s coast, the transportation tax would help improve the ability to ship goods to and from the Savannah port, currently the fastest-growing port in the nation, Cummiskey said.
And in metro Atlanta, if voters approved the tax, it would send a message that the region is tackling its transportation and congestion issues.
“We have a congestion problem, but we are not the only state that does,” Cummiskey said. “A lot of states have transportation problems.”
But Cummiskey added that every time Georgia receives national attention about its traffic issues, it hurts the state’s ability to recruit new companies.
“Is it a perfect plan? No. I’m not going to say it’s perfect,” Cummiskey said. “But it’s a really good plan. In this world, there is no perfect plan.”
Cummiskey’s message essentially was: Don’t let perfection become the enemy of the good.
“It’s all about jobs,” Cummiskey said. “I can’t tell you the number of jobs that don’t come to Atlanta because of traffic.”
But when the L.A. Times or the New York Times write stories about Atlanta’s traffic problems, it does impact executives making decisions on where to invest.
“I can’t tell you how many times we haven’t been short-listed (because of traffic),” Cummiskey said. “A vote for the T-Splost (the regional transportation tax) is a vote for jobs. A ‘No’ vote is going to hinder job growth in Georgia for a decade. We need to pass it.”