By Maria Saporta
Gov. Nathan Deal began his day Thursday morning stopping by the Metro Atlanta Chamber board meeting to thank the business organization for its efforts to get the regional transportation sales tax passed on July 31.
“My meeting with the board this morning was simply to thank them,” Deal said later Thursday morning. “Their efforts and support should be recognized and appreciated.”
At the board meeting, Deal let Metro Atlanta Chamber leaders know he was about to make a major transportation announcement that would impact the Atlanta region, but he wouldn’t tell them what the news would be.
Then a couple of hours later at the State Capitol, Deal announced his plan to remove the tolls from Georgia 400 — a campaign promise he had made. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue along with other state transportation officials decided two years ago to extend the 50-cent toll even after the initial bonds were paid.
That move has alienated many in the Atlanta region who have said they can’t trust government to do what it says it’s going to do — sp why should they for the regional tax.
Deal’s announcement means that the tolls will be paid off by December, 2013, four years earlier than currently scheduled.
While the governor did not say his decision was directly tied to the July 31, it was obvious to everyone present that the move could only help the chances of the tax passing. Recent polls have shown that the tax currently would fail.
But the mood at the Metro Atlanta Chamber and at the State Capitol and at Atlanta’s City Hall shows a re-energized and impassioned effort on the part of people who favor the tax.
At his press conference, Gov. Deal reaffirmed his support and gave his unqualified backing to the effort.
“If Atlanta and the State of Georgia want to continue to be the leaders in the Southeast, we have to do something about our highway and transit needs,” Deal said. “The only foreseeable opportunity to do this is to pass the T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).”
The governor also said that without the sales tax, that the state and local governments “will not have the revenue available to fund them in the near future.”
Business and elected leaders also were delighted to see Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed step up his efforts to get the tax passed. The mayor, who has been angered by recent polls and commentary (including columns in SaportaReport), is now taking on the role he loves best — the underdog who will fight as hard as he can to win and to prove everyone else wrong.
Even Deal said that he was “pleased to see that Mayor Kasim Reed” has come out swinging.
It ain’t over until it’s over.
Dave Williams, a writer with the Atlanta Business Chronicle, contributed to this report.