Fairness and equity must be central to any regional transportation plan

By Guest Columnist VINCENT FORT, a Georgia State Senator who has represented the 39th District that includes Atlanta and East Point since 1996

The TSPLOST referendum failed for many reasons, including distrust of government. Part of that distrust includes the perception that government in Georgia is unfair.

The message that I and others, such as John Evans of the DeKalb NAACP, Edward Dubose of the state NAACP, Georgia SCLC, Sierra Club and labor leaders, communicated to voters was that the TSPLOST project and process was unfair.

Unfair because the one per cent sales tax is a regressive tax that weighs heaviest on middle class families; unfair because people in Atlanta, DeKalb, and Fulton would have had to pay 2 percent (the new TSPLOST tax plus the MARTA 1 percent sales tax paid for the past 40 years) while other counties in the 10 county region would have paid only 1 percent; unfair because MARTA was prohibited from using its TSPLOST revenues for operating expenses even though MARTA’s deficit is in its operating budget; unfair because African-American businesses only get 2.4 percent of Georgia DOT’s federally-funded business.

Vincent Fort

These are not new issues. I repeatedly broached the issue of equity over the last several years to my fellow legislators and other elected officials. My concerns fell on deaf ears. When I introduced a bill to mitigate the 2 percent for Atlanta, DeKalb, and Fulton counties versus 1 percent inequity, it did not even get a hearing.

The returns from the July 31 elections show that voters agree that the referendum did not pass the fairness test. A look at some precincts in the City of Atlanta reflects that. Many post-election pundits have looked at Atlanta’s 58 percent to 42 percent support of the TSPLOST and pronounced that the results indicated overwhelming acceptance of the TSPLOST. But it is more complicated than that.

The TSPLOST either got tepid support or lost in many neighborhoods that advocates had planned on getting overwhelming support. Many African-American neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta, south DeKalb and south Fulton fell short of the 60 percent to 75 percent the pro-TSPLOST campaign operatives had hoped for.

The best way to understanding this is to compare results from the March municipal option sales tax renewal for Atlanta’s water system and the July 31 votes. For example, in northwest Atlanta, precinct 10-F voted 95 percent for the MOST but only exactly 50 percent voted for the TSPLOST, a drop off of 47 percent; in southwest Atlanta, precinct 4-K voted yes for the MOST by 90 percent and 56 percent for the TSPLOST, a decline of 38 percent; another southwest Atlanta precinct, 11-K, voted for the MOST by 93 percent but declined to just 43 percent for the TSPLOST, a drop off of a whopping 54 percent.

African-American voters in Atlanta deserted the TSPLOST in droves. The support for the TSPLOST was even less in DeKalb because of the lack of a South DeKalb rail line in the project list. It is not difficult to conclude that the fairness test was a deciding factor for many African-Americans.

If the TSPLOST was to have had any chance of winning it needed African-Americans to combine with other Democrats. That did not happen. (Citywide, the MOST garnered 85 percent of the vote but just 58 percent for the TSPLOST – a drop off of 32 percent).

If another referendum is to pass or another method of funding is created, then fairness and equity must be incorporated. The planning process must not only allow the public to give input but it must incorporate their ideas. That is why our coalition is working to conduct a community-based transportation planning process that will dovetail with future efforts.

We are concerned with Gov. Nathan Deal’s declaration of sole control over metro Atlanta’s transportation projects and his unfounded attacks on MARTA and transit. As projects are determined it ought to be based on the needs and wishes of the citizens.

The most important issue raised by our coalition might be the exclusionary practices at DOT. In addition to African-American business getting only 2.4 percent of DOT’s federally funded business, they only get 1.1 percent of business from state funded projects. This is an issue that we will pursue until a fair contracting process that allows African-American to receive an equitable share of contracts.

Metro Atlanta has a transportation problem. We must work together-suburban and urban, black and white, young and old-to solve the problem. But, it is essential that fairness be part of the process.

8 replies
  1. ABetterWorldIsPossible says:

    Thanks so much for this piece, Senator! And for joining the fight against TSPLOST.
    Now that TSPLOST is defeated, the beginning of a difficult but exciting process has begun – the need to fully and fairly address transportation for all in metro Atlanta in a way that TSPLOST failed to do. From this failure, and our history in Georgia, we can build something much better than before.
    I think instead of Fort laying out his specific plan, it might be nice for us as concerned and affected citizens to begin to lay out what WE would like to see in a public transportation system. As Fort said, we want a community-based plan that consults and incorporates the needs and opinions of all people.
    For me, incorporating everyone’s feedback means especially seeking feedback from those traditionally left out of decisions like these or who are most dependent on public transit or who have the most to gain from its expansion. But we all can and should help with this process. What do you think, Joe? Senator?
    I want a transportation system that will connect us all even if we don’t drive, that will reduce traffic and smog, that will reduce racism and classism and take down other barriers between us, that will build community among Metro-Atlantans, and that will make our city greener.
    Perhaps it could even be state funded, locally controlled, more convenient and desirable than driving, and everyone can go everywhere they need with ease and efficiency. It could even expand bike paths, too, and have lots of public bathrooms, public art, and more support and enrichment for people with children.
    I for one am excited about the possibilities of a transportation project we can all get behind. I think it’s even possible for us to have a public transit system similar to New York and other big cities – and it’s about time we get with the program here in Atlanta! I think the possibilities are endless and we should shoot for the stars. Here is an image of a MARTA map we could use as a starting place for our conversation about where we are going:
    Power to the People 🙂Report

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       I completely agree that Atlanta (and Georgia) needs to stop scheming to just try and keep pace and needs to shoot for the stars when talking about a multimodal transportation vision.
      And that map of a greatly-expanded regional transportation network that you posted a link to is an excellent starting place about where we should be going with our transit vision.Report

  2. ScottNAtlanta says:

    I have a problem with the complaint that only 2.4 percent of DOT business.  How many minority businesses applied?  Of those, how many produced the lowest bid?  If those bids were passed over, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  The other problem with minority contracts is that if you want to do business with the city (as an example) there are more than enough minority “shell companies” that have nothing to do with the bid that can get the business and sub it in turn to you.  This is neither fair nor efficient.  They basically play middle man and rake in a profit just to get you a place at the table.  I’d like to see this addressed in those minority contracts (that end up benefiting a couple of people that are actually minorities).Report

  3. LI says:

    Mr. Fort  the very people you are claiming to protect, are in fact  still hurting and will continue to hurt for some time.   Clayton county is still left without bus service and South DeKalb is likely never to get rail. This is sad that disadvantaged are still being under served by our so called leaders. Report

  4. PeggyPowellDobbins says:

    I am so glad to read Sen Vincent Fort on the Saporta Report, and I’m grateful to him for articulating the basic interest of ordinary people. It was a regressive tax and it’s time to remember what that means. I very much welcome his initiating a community guided transportation planning process. It won’t be easy and it will be complicated, but I bet it won’t cost as much as the PR campaign to pass TPlost. I pray all people of good will will patiently persist and Atlanta will leap frog over cities that are stuck with what they’re stuck with to be a showcase for every kind of jitney, autorIckshaw, golf carts, cruzers,dolmases, motor bikes, 4×4 for 6s, and anything an entrepreneur wants to try.Report

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       Ms. Powell-Dobbins, I agree with your comments as the Atlanta Region’s transportation mobility crisis is something that we basically need to and should be throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at attempting to solve over the long-term.Report


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