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.