Update on Metro Transportation Tax: Elected officials tell regional planners to halve $23 billion list
By David Pendered
Four metro Atlanta politicians who are to lead the process of deciding which transportation projects to fund with a proposed penny sales tax have passed the first part of the task to regional planners.
The four elected officials voted Thursday to have the Atlanta Regional Commission cull their $23 billion wish list. The vote came soon after the top Transportation Department official working on the project admonished the elected officials to get to work.
“I recommend you pull your sleeves up and get working,” said Todd Long, GDOT’s planning director. “It’s coming quick. You’ve got to cull that list down.”
In short order, the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable voted 4-0 to have the ARC take a first pass at the wish list. The ARC is charged with cutting the wish list of transportation projects in half – from $23 billion to $11.5 billion – by July 7.
The elected officials who voted to have the ARC cut the list were:
- B.J. Mathis, chairman of the Henry County commission;
- Tom Worthan, chair of the Douglas County commission;
- Bill Floyd, mayor of Decatur;
- Mark Mathews, mayor of Kennesaw.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the fifth committee member, did not attend the meeting. At about the same time, the Atlanta City Council was negotiating on one of Reed’s priorities from his 2009 campaign – pension reform for city employees.
The meeting unfolded along a pattern that’s familiar for important meetings about significant public policy issues in metro Atlanta. A lot of information was presented and there was no initial conversation about how to trim the wish list.
- An update on the website;
- A report from the state economist who outlined his methodology for calculating the amount of money a penny sales tax would raise over a decade;
- An update on telephone town hall meetings that reached 134,405 participants in the 10-county tax district;
- An update on how the projects on the list can be analyzed with Microsoft-style graphs and comparing the culling of the list to trimming trees to reduce a forest;
- An update by GDOT’s Long on the status in other sales tax districts around the state.
Long used his update to let the metro Atlanta officials know that he thinks they need to start cutting the list.
“I’ll say this – the other regions’ staffs are doing good,” Long said. “They don’t have town hall meetings. They don’t have fancy circles and eco-systems. They’re doing it more on history and what they want their region to be.
“Sometimes you get analysis paralysis by data,” Long said.
Committee Chairman Bucky Johnson responded by saying that the metro Atlanta committee has a huge job – managing a program about the size of the entire rest of Georgia.
Following some general conversation about how to cut the list, Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd made the motion to have the ARC staff cut the wish list in half. The motion failed for the lack of a second.
But Floyd’s motion got the conversation started.
In short order, a motion was crafted for the ARC to cut the wish list in half by following these four guidelines:
- Congestion relief;
- Deliverability, meaning completion within a decade;
- Economic impact/job creation;
- Regional Equity.
Johnson added a fifth caveat by himself:
- The ARC will have the job done by the board’s meeting on July 7.
The deadline apparently floored Jane Hayse, the ARC’s transportation planning chief. Hayse had presented the report on project analysis.
“We’re talking about a holiday [July 4] and two weeks,” Hayse said. “I cannot stand here honestly and commit that you will have it before July 7.”
Johnson responded that the deadline is not hard and fast.
“We can’t expect that what we dropped in Jane’s lap today, that we’re going to get that much by July 7,” Johnson said.