Hoping 2011 and new leaders will bring sound policies for Georgia and the Atlanta region

Happy New Year!

It will be easy to say good-bye to 2010 — a year that tested our perseverance, faith and inner strength. The economy was sluggish and there was a general sense of malaise — to use a word often associated with our own President Jimmy Carter.

A new year always brings optimism — that we can start anew, that we can wipe the slate clean and that the speedometer goes back to zeroes. As someone who loves numbers, I can’t help but take joy in the fact that the year started with a four-of-a-kind — 1-1-11.

Looking ahead, it appears as though the economy is beginning to purr and that we will be able to reach a level of comfort and have greater confidence in our future.

In Georgia, it is a new day as well. Nearly every one of our elected constitutional statewide office holders are new in their job. The new faces include Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, as well as a new attorney general, school superintendent, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner, agricultural commissioner — and that list goes on.

A couple of the returning leaders are Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston. And thankfully, they have managed to improve the tense relationship that exists between the House and the Senate.

And it appears that Deal is not saddled the same kind of prickly personality of his predecessor. Gov. Sonny Perdue is leaving office with a less than stellar record in his leadership of the state in the past eight years. Deal now has an opportunity to exert new leadership and look good by comparison.

It usually takes me a few days before I realize that the changing of a calendar year does not really change anything. Our struggles and challenges remain, and the divisiveness that afflicts our nation also exists in our state.

Although there has been a virtual clean sweep by Republican leaders in Georgia, the fact remains that our state still has an important minority of liberals and Democrats, who should not be ignored or pushed aside.

One of my biggest fears going forward is that the schisms that exist between the City of Atlanta, its suburbs and the state will only get wider.

The fissure became obvious during the last meeting of the regional transportation roundtable. The election of five executive committee members showed that there is an unfair bias against the core part of our region.

All five executive committee members are white. And the only representative from the MARTA jurisdictions is Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, who represents one of the smallest governments in the region.

Since it’s the roundtable that will come up with the all-too significant transportation “project list,” the executive committee members have a huge challenge before them to make sure that the needs of the core area of the region are met. Nearly half of the region’s population lives in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb and no referendum will pass without the solid support of those jurisdictions.

(Word has it that there’s a chance one of the suburban representatives will be resigning from the roundtable’s executive committee, and that will open a path for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to become one of the all-important five members).

But there is so much work that needs to be done.

Sadly, there are still influential state leaders who believe we can pave our way out of congestion. They are ignoring decades of experience that have shown that the only way to add capacity to our roadways is if we get people to carpool, ride buses or trains, cycle or walk to where they need to go.

And with so much focus on “congestion mitigation,” there’s little understanding of the concept of “congestion prevention.” If people live in walkable communities served by transit, they will not need to get into a car for every trip — reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

I must admit that recent developments have made me much less optimistic about where we’re headed. A couple of years ago, we had reached a strong consensus for a regional transit plan by leaders representing 11 metro counties, the mayor of the City of Atlanta and a host of state leaders.

They passed a comprehensive plan for transit called “Concept 3”— a plan that would have completed the original vision for MARTA and expanded the reach of transit throughout our region.

Since that plan was passed, we seem to be back-sliding to our past practices of giving financial and political preference towards suburban, car-oriented modes of transportation.

But it is too early in the new year for me to declare defeat.

After a nice break that included a trip to Mexico and a host of holiday activities, I will try to approach 2011 with an open mind — and with hope that the Atlanta region and the state are headed in the right direction.

So let us toast to a better year in 2011.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn the lights out.... says:

    Happy New Year, Maria!

    “Sadly, there are still influential state leaders who believe we can pave our way out of congestion.”…..Well, if they really truly believe that then I really wish that they would get to paving! But they probably won’t. They’ll just probably talk about how much they’d really like to widen 285, but they’ll just probably build a new five-lane in the middle of nowhere connecting Bumblef**k, Georgia with South Bumblef**k, Georgia out in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp like they do every year because as we all know, there’s a super-high demand for center-turn lanes in sparcely populated rural areas with the high-traffic volumes and all (LOL)! I don’t think that those influential state leaders really believe that we can pave our way out of congestion on their own merit, because with the aid of those super-large-sized birdbrains they possess, it’s not like they’re really smart enough to come up with any plan, even a bad plan, on their own, it’s just that all of their campaign contributions and political financing comes from wealthy roadbuilders.

    When are all of you transit advocates gonna start making even larger campaign contributions of your own so that we can finally make some meaningful headway on rail and bus in this town? The bus and rail transit crowd could really get our legislators’ “full-and-undivided” attention if they took a page from the roadbuilders playbook and treated state leaders to $500/plate dinners, tickets to Falcons, Hawks, Braves, Thrashers, Bulldog games and the Masters, frequent and extended stays at posh hotels like the Ritz (Downtown, Buckhead and Reynolds Plantation), the InterContinental and the Four Seasons, trips for two to various exotic locales like the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Caribbean and, most importantly, some of Atlanta’s finest exotic dance clubs like the Pink Pony and the Pink Pony South (okay, the Pink Pony South as a fine exotic dance club is debatable, but where do you think our fair state legislators are going to find companionship for all of these outings?).

    It’s not like I’m telling transit advocates to be corrupt in furthering their cause. Okay, I am telling transit advocates to be corrupt in furthering they’re cause because I’m desperate. Traffic in this town is like totally getting to me and I’d like to see results on transportation like yesterday. Anything, toll roads, widen and double-deck the freeways, expand the buses and trains so that they run one behind the other, anything, just DO SOMETHING, for Christ’s sake!

    Corrupt, intense lobbying of frat-boyish legislators isn’t my first option, but if the roadbuilders don’t hesitate to continuously throw huge piles of money, gifts, free meals and women at our “lawmakers” to keep their undivided attention and always get want they want, which is lucrative government road building and paving contracts, then why couldn’t the bus and rail people find some powerful bus and train manfacturers and some railcar builders who are more than interested in doing “bidness” in Georgia and do the same thing to help further the transit cause in the same way that roadbuilders annually further their cause in state government? Like Dr. Phil, let’s just “Get Real” and admit that “Money Talks and Bullsh** Walks” and that the only way that we’re ever going to see any type meaningful progress on rail and bus transit is to throw as much money, if not more, as the powerful roadbuilding interests that have controlled this state government since the advent of the automobile.Report

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  2. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn the lights out.... says:

    “Although there has been a virtual clean sweep by Republican leaders in Georgia, the fact remains that our state still has an important minority of liberals and Democrats, who should not be ignored or pushed aside.”

    Maria, I can assure you that the liberals and Democrats in this state won’t be ignored or pushed aside….

    They’ll be completely disregarded and totally forgotten as a factor in state politics. With so many Democrats continuing to which parties to darn near give the GOP a near-supermajority in the state legislature (if they haven’t already become one yet), the battle in state politics will no longer be between Democrats and Republicans, the battle will be between MODERATE and HARD-LINE Conservatives in the Georgia Republican Party. When a political party virtually has no more rural white conservatives and when even black Democrats like Ashley Bell of Gainesville and left-leaning Democrats like Doug McKillip of Athens are defecting to the other side, that’s when you know that the Democrat Party in Georgia is in serious trouble (Code: CRITICAL). It has gotten to the point where if any young or up-and-coming, or even established politicians want to have a career of any significance in state politics they know that they have to have an (R) in front of their name to be taken seriously or to even be simply acknowledged, anymore.Report

    Reply
  3. Scott says:

    I chuckle at the “good ol boys” comment since the two most influential people standing in the way of anything meaningful are both WOMEN…yes that’s right! Jan Jones R-Milton and Donna Sheldon R-Dacula the former is responsible for the anti-Marta language that will assure the 2012 funding bill wont pass, and the later is head of the transportation committee who has said publicly that she sees no reason to revisit the bill this legislative session (which is kind of loony anyway since this is the ONLY session that can revisit it). So while we may have one party…there is no gender bias in legislative stupidityReport

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  4. Federico says:

    Thank you for another insightful post and for staying optimistic, Maria! It is often frustrating to work in planning and public policy in metropolitan Atlanta, especially knowing that there are so many people in the metro area (even outside of central Atlanta and the Perimeter) who want a more sophisticated transportation system and options for living that reduce the need to drive. The signs that infrastructure funding from the federal government may be entering a dark age with the ongoing political gridlock in the US Congress suggest to me that local leaders need to be more innovative and resourceful in taking on transportation initiatives themselves. I’m inspired by your optimism and am also hopeful that 2011 will be the year that this region, especially the City of Atlanta, begins applying some real common sense to transportation, taking the ‘congestion prevention’ approach that you describe. Such a focus on enriching transportation options and quality of life through meaningful small-scale investment in streets, sidewalks, and better access to transit is within our reach; it just takes commitment and political will.Report

    Reply

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