By David Pendered
Two organized opponents of the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax said Thursday they are baffled by the allegation by tax advocates that the opponents have not offered an alternative to the tax.
The Sierra Club issued its alternative in writing in April, and members of the Atlanta Tea Party have voiced a consistent set of alternatives since October.
“We have common ground on this issue. There some things we don’t agree on, but we agree that this tax has got to be stopped,” said Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party.
Both the Atlanta Tea Party and Sierra Club responded Thursday to a request from SaportaReport.com to provide their alternatives to the referendum. The request came after the campaign for the sales tax challenged them Wednesday to release their solution to relieve traffic congestion, in lieu of the transportation sales tax.
Here’s the challenge issued Wednesday to the opponents. It came in the form of a media release from Citizens for Transportation Mobility:
“The campaign pushing for approval of the Regional Transportation Referendum on July 31 is calling on opposition groups to release their preferred Plan B so that voters can see what a no vote would really mean to Metro Atlanta. Various Tea Party groups have joined the DeKalb NAACP, the Sierra Club and the Green Party in expressing opposition to the referendum. But they cannot produce an alternative plan because they all disagree on what should be done to fix Metro Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion.”
Based on the responses from the Sierra Club and Tea Party, there is general agreement on several issues. Here are highlights of agreement, followed by their complete responses.
Apparent areas of agreement include:
- The 10-county approach to relieving traffic congestion is not the right structure to solve the problem;
- Money to build congestion-easing transit and transportation projects should come from sources other than a 1 percent sales tax;
- Existing government entities that work in the transportation arena need to prove they will properly handle major projects.
Here are edited highlights of the response from Dooley, of the Atlanta Tea Party:
“CTM seems to think its solution is the only one that is viable, and that is simply not true. We disagree with the project list and the whole process of the regional roundtables.
“We’ve had our alternatives for months, and they are as detailed as they can get without us having taxpayer-funded government employees to work on them,” Dooley said, referring to the city-, county-, and state-paid transportation planners who collaborated on the list of transportation projects to be built if voters approve the sales tax.
- “For starters the Georgia Constitution needs to be amended so that it would allow for regional taxing authorities. After that is done, we also believe the county commissions should decide which counties they want to partner with for transportation projects. This would allow counties that have common transportation needs to be in the same region and have a greater chance of their project list passed by voters.
- “The funding mechanism should not be just from one revenue stream. We should look at consumption-based revenue in different areas.
- “Some options [for managing traffic on roadways] include installing distance based fares for mass transit; variable work hours so everyone is not coming or going to work at the same time; variable speed limits to cut down on traffic accidents according to congestion; encourage greater use of van pools for larger companies and state employees by offering tax incentives; install more smart red lights and use other flow control options; expand the arterial road system so we can take traffic off the interstates.
- “The Reason Foundation released some very interesting ideas a few years ago that should be explored further. I have attached two reports from them. We are not, however, in favor of toll roads being the only source of revenue and would not be in favor of toll roads all over Atlanta. Only in limited circumstances.
Here are edited highlights of the response from Colleen Kiernan director of the Georgia Chapter, Sierra Club:
“Citizens for Transportation Mobility is so focused on passing this referendum that they have stopped observing the world around them. Fortunately, the world will still be turning on August 1st, regardless of whether the referendum passes or fails in Metro Atlanta.
“We believe that a more effective and viable path forward can and must be identified. Sierra Club included an outline of a Plan B in our April 30 position paper with the following guiding principles:
- “Put the House in Order First- In order to win the trust of the voting public, the serious institutional deficiencies of transportation governance in Georgia must be addressed before major new funding is pursued. Existing transportation agencies, including GDOT, GRTA, and MARTA, must be reformed to enable greater transparency, efficiency, and public confidence. The Atlanta region must put in place a truly equitable, accountable and trustworthy framework for transit governance and decision-making prior to investing billions of new taxpayer dollars into the system.
- “Pursue Funding and Investment Strategies that Make Sense – First, we should focus on maintaining and effectively utilizing our existing revenues and assets. It is not responsible to invest money in system expansion when we have not demonstrated the ability to properly maintain and operate what we have; the T-SPLOST does exactly that for both the roadway and transit networks. Secondly, any new transportation funding sources should be tied to travel behavior to the greatest extent possible and should be implemented over an appropriate geographic scope. Specific mechanisms that we believe have promise include a municipal parking tax in Atlanta and other urban jurisdictions; targeted, voluntary expansion of county-based sales taxes (including potential expansion of the existing MARTA tax); and a restructured, multimodal gasoline tax.
- “Give Georgians Transportation Choices for the 21st Century – Rather than continuing down the dead-end path of sprawl-oriented road expansion, we must focus on strategies that reflect the needs and challenges of the 21st-century economy. We should create jobs and improve mobility by focusing on commute alternatives at the local level and building a strong regional/intercity rail network at the state level.