By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Tuesday used the platform of the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta to urge support for the penny sales tax for regional transportation that supposed to go before voters in July.
Reed, who was going from the Kiwanis Club lunch to the Atlanta City Council meeting where the issue of airport concessions was to be debated, welcomed the opportunity to talk about something else other than the city’s process of selecting new food, beverage and retail business for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
“I’m going to have a pretty tough time at City Council today,” Reed said. “You are the highlight of my day. I’m not making it up when I say I’m glad to be here.”
It is an annual tradition for the mayor of Atlanta to speak at the first Kiwanis Club meeting of the year. Reed remembered that this was his third visit to the luncheon and that he was one day shy of celebrating his second anniversary as mayor.
Although Reed looked back at some of the accomplishments of his administration (reducing the city’s pension liabilities, building the city’s financial reserves, hiring 400 police officers and opening all the city’s recreation centers), his most forceful comments were on what needs to happen in the coming year.
The mayor said that the future of Atlanta, the state and the nation is building infrastructure, particularly with transportation.
“If you don’t have (infrastructure), you are going to be left behind,” Reed said, later adding that the T-Splost (the regional transportation sales tax referendum) was an example. “We need to pass it.”
Reed said the penny sales tax would generate about $700 million a year for 10 years, and those dollars would be invested in metro Atlanta’s transportation networks — including transit and roads.
“I believe this is fundamental to us maintaining our position as a leading city in the South,” Reed said.
Later, when asked a question about his long-term goals for the city, Reed said: “the future is infrastructure investment.” As mayor, Reed said he is part of “almost every major recruitment effort in our region.”
The biggest criticism that he hears from companies considering an investment in metro Atlanta is congestion.
“That’s the reason we are losing some of the close projects,” Reed said.
Someone else asked if the HOT lanes on I-85 and the aborted project to add HOT lanes along I-75 could hurt the chances of getting the referendum passed.
“I think it’s going to hurt us,” Reed said, adding that all the big initiatives in Atlanta — such as MARTA — were close votes. “This is a decision about whether we want to move forward or whether we want to be small.”
The issue, however is so important that he believed he needed to deliver the message to Kiwanians attending Tuesday’s lunch even though “the biggest vote of my career is happening across the street.”
The mayor then jokingly said that if the referendum fails, “I will be wearing a T-shirt that says: ‘Chasing Mississippi.’”
Then Reed quickly caught himself and said he loves Mississippi and wondered if anyone present was from that state. He said he hoped he hadn’t offended anyone from Mississippi, a state that often ranks toward the bottom of many national measures.
And then, after receiving a standing ovation, Reed stepped off the stage to hurry to the Atlanta City Council meeting.