Column: Business leaders start effort to sell transportation tax
By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 11, 2011
The Metro Atlanta business community is organizing a political campaign to sell the regional transportation sales tax to voters for the August 2012 referendum.
An initial pitch was made during the Commerce Club’s monthly board meeting earlier this month in a quest to raise at least several million dollars for the effort.
“I shared with them the importance of this effort,” said Post Properties Inc. CEO Dave Stockert, who is chairing the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s transportation committee and is one of the champions for this effort. “We have between now and 2012 to educate people in metro Atlanta about this opportunity.”
Stockert said the business community is treating the sales tax as though it were a political candidate.
“We’ve got to run a very sophisticated and sizable campaign,” said Stockert, who added that there’s a coalition of about 60 organizations that have signed on to support the campaign. “We know we’ve got to have a very broad base of understanding and support for this to pass.”
Business leaders acknowledge that getting voters to pass the transportation sales tax will be an uphill battle.
“We have got to present a proposal to voters that resonates with everybody in the region,” Stockert said.
But the business community also understands that the decision about which projects will be listed in the referendum is not up to them but up to the Regional Transportation Roundtable, a group of 21 elected officials.
The one way the business coalition can influence what is included on that list will be by sharing polling information on which projects are most popular with voters.
That means trying to find a list that has appeal to the urban, suburban and exurban areas.
“We are the cheerleaders, but we are going to be giving them feedback about the opinions that people share with us in our polling,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
One of the big questions will be on how many of the projects on the list will be for transit and how many will be road-based.
Williams and Stockert said that a major issue that still needs to be resolved before August 2012 is creating a regional transit governance entity that can coordinate a seamless system between MARTA and the transit agencies in Cobb and Gwinnett, as well as the X-Press buses.
“I think every county would like to see the whole challenge of bus, light rail and heavy rail working more effectively together,” Williams said.
The Regional Transportation Roundtable will be finalizing its project list in October, and that’s when the political campaign can really build steam.
“This is a marathon,” Williams said. “We won’t even know who our ‘candidate’ will be until October.”
But that’s not stopping business leaders from already selling an unknown candidate.
“If we don’t seize it,” Stockert said, “it will be a long, long time before we have this kind of opportunity again.”
CAP to honor Goodwin, Balzers
When Central Atlanta Progress celebrates its 70th year working to improve downtown, it will honor one of its early leaders. George Goodwin, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who became a dean of public relations in Atlanta, will receive the Dan Sweat Award.
CAP’s annual meeting will be held on March 15. The theme will be: “Celebrating 70 years of Progress and Our Vision for the Future.”
So it is only fitting that Goodwin will receive the award. Goodwin, 92, actually served as director of the Central Atlanta Improvement Association (CAP’s predecessor organization) from 1952 to 1954. Goodwin went on to start the public relations firm of Bell & Stanton (which became Manning, Salvage & Lee).
He spearheaded the Forward Atlanta campaign in the 1960s, which helped the city gain a national profile.
The annual meeting also will honor Peg and Bill Balzer with the Turner Downtown Community Leadership Award. The Balzers are downtown residents who have become leading philanthropists in the central city, giving to Georgia State University and donating $1.4 million to Theatrical Outfit, which helped the company buy and transform the old Herren’s restaurant into The Balzer Theater.
CAP President A.J. Robinson said the annual meeting will hold special significance this year.
“We are reaching way back there to one of our early leaders, who has had a long history of serving the community in many different ways — both out front and behind the scenes,” Robinson said. “George Goodwin has counseled lots of people on how to be successful in this community. We feel like it’s a great way to honor our past.”
Robinson also called the Balzers “wonderful downtown citizens.”
Green to lead VisionServe
Subie Green, president of Georgia’s Center for the Visually Impaired since 2001, is the new chair of VisionServe Alliance, a national nonprofit that represents private agencies serving people who are blind or visually impaired.
Green has been a VisionServe board member since 2001, and she began her two-year term leading the organization earlier this month.
Hearts of Hope
Bob and Lyn Turknett of DeKalb County will chair the annual Hearts of Hope Gala for the Partnership Against Domestic Violence on March 5 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
As co-chairs, the Turknetts hope to be able to raise $650,000 to help fund the organization’s shelters, help lines and programs, including employment counseling, reconstructive surgery and child care.
Last year, the Partnership Against Domestic Violence helped 18,000 women.