New SaportaReport columnist to explore what’s next for the region
Just a month before, we had all been in the same room at the top of the Marriott Marquis in the war room suite on the night of the July 31 primary. We were constantly hitting refresh on our laptops and iPads as the election results of the regional transportation sales tax referendum trickled in. There was a nervous energy in the room as we mentally prepared for the outcome of one of Georgia’s most important elections.
Thirty odd days later, we were comparing notes on our new projects and positions and sharing our concerns about the future of the region. As I sat back and observed the leaders in the room — the campaign’s chair, consultants and Metro Atlanta Chamber officials, I was sure that we were all still going over the “what-if” scenarios that could have led to passing the largest transportation infrastructure spending project metro Atlanta had ever seen.
At the dinner, those present included Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the two campaign strategists — Kevin Ross and Paul Bennecke. After the dessert plates were cleared, we presented Dave Stockert, who chaired the fund-raising for the campaign and who is CEO of Post Properties, with a commissioned Mike Lukovich political cartoon featuring his façade carved into a mountain along with that of Atlanta giants such as Mayor Ivan Allen and Ambassador Andrew Young.
As a young Atlantan, I was moved that this was not just the loss of a campaign but a deep realization of the fissures in our legislative process and the distrust among the electorate. Most importantly, I wondered what it would mean for the future of our region and the state.
While transportation funding has long been a hydra for our business and political leaders, there are numerous challenges to give attention to.
Just this past weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to the Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, provide an analysis of the state budget.
With just more than 51 percent of the budget funding education, Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom percentile for education achievement results. College students are burdened by the cost of rising student fees as the university system seeks to cover the difference from repeated budget cuts. Rebuilding the reserves is a priority and yet state departments are having to do more with less, year over year.
In downtown Atlanta, where I reside, the businesses and civic leaders are seeking to revitalize the core of the city while searching for solutions to the human services needs of the homeless community and the poor.
The success stories of the region and the state must also be shared — the advances in technology, the realized dreams of entrepreneurs, the times when we get it right. This is just a glimpse of what I hope to cover at SaportaReport.
Inevitably leaders in metro Atlanta will come back together to figure out “what’s next” — something I hope happens sooner rather than later. In my own way, I will keep pushing to transition from the “what if” to the “we did.”
Note to readers: Before joining SaportaReport, Saba Long was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta — the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum.