New strategy, tax for transportation supported by former adversaries in 2012 TSPLOST referendum

By Tom Baxter

A coalition of groups from both sides of the 2012 battle over the regional transportation referendum has agreed on a set of points, which they say could break the current logjam over transportation planning.

New allies announced their plan Tuesday at the state Capitol.

New allies announced their plan Tuesday at the state Capitol.

The former opponents said they all could back a transportation strategy outlined at http://www.policybest.org/the-best-transportation-plan-areas-of-coalition/, which allows flexibility in letting counties and municipalities to band together, under the mantra of “one project at a time,” to identify needed transportation projects and local SPLOSTs to fund them.

Supporting the new approach at a Tuesday press conference were Michael Sullivan and Seth Millican of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, which supported the 2012 TSPLOST; Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta TEA Party, and Neill Herring and Colleen Kiernan of the Sierra Club, two organizations that had opposed the measure.

They also called for the commitment of the “fourth penny” of the sales tax on gasoline to transportation rather than the General Fund, and allowing SPLOSTs to charge sales tax in amounts other than a penny. (SPLOST is an acronym for, “special purpose local option sales tax”.)

The agreement was brokered by Atlanta blogger Charlie Harper, who also announced the formation of a new 501(c)(4) organization, PolicyBEST, http://www.policybest.org/ which he described as an effort to cut through the sloganeering prevalent in the current political climate and find areas where consensus can be reached on business, education, science and transportation.

Harper said the group would not endorse legislation offered by House Republicans Ed Setzler of Acworth and John Carson of Marietta, which addresses some of these issues, but called it “a step in the right direction.”

Harper, who edits the popular conservative blog Peach Pundit, said the genesis of his new project began with the realization two years ago that the metro area needed more of a conversation over transportation issues than a debate.

After seven years as a blogger, he said he, “has become incredibly frustrated by having opinions, and not results.”

Dooley said the approach outlined Tuesday was more conscious of the importance of local control, and agreed with Harper’s comment that the metro region carved out for the 2012 vote was “both too small and too large at the same time.”

Herring said giving government more flexibility to put together SPLOSTs would be a boon to projects like the proposed Atlanta-Athens “brain train,” which don’t fit within typical governmental boundaries.

 

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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