A few questions about T-SPLOST

Terry Garlock's picture

I know some good people support the upcoming T-SPLOST vote, but I remain unconvinced. Since I am admittedly a mere novice on local transportation issues, I’ll tell you the questions that still trouble me, just in case someone can convincingly clear away my fog.

Why is more tax and more government always the answer? I am reflexively troubled when told we must create yet another level of government, a region of 10 metro Atlanta counties, to make decisions on spending a new sales tax of 1 percent on transportation projects.

What has existing government done for us so far? From gasoline sales the federal government takes 18.4 cents per gallon, of which 15.4 cents is earmarked for roads and 3 cents for mass transit. The state of Georgia collects 7.5 cents excise tax per gallon for transportation plus a motor fuel use tax Governor Deal recently froze at 12.1 cents, and let’s not forget Fayette County’s 6 percent sales tax.

I realize any amount of tax is never enough, but color me doubtful that more tax and a new layer of government is required to fix our roads and bridges.

Am I wrong to wonder if there is some ulterior motive, like shifting costs from Atlanta outward to surrounding commuter counties? Could this be an Atlanta-centric power-grab to centrally dictate how transportation monies are spent? I would much prefer to have motives on the table where I can see them clearly.

Like most people, I don’t like being played, and that’s how I read pro-T-SPLOST advertising. Does it trouble anyone else that the T-SPLOST is promoted as a penny tax? A penny sounds like just about nothing, how could anyone object to a penny? But adding a penny to the existing 6 percent sales tax in Fayette County amounts to a 16.67 percent sales tax increase. That’s more serious, isn’t it?

“Untie Atlanta” is a clever billboard phrase promoting the T-SPLOST, an anagram, I suppose, on “Unite Atlanta.” But that phrase implies T-SPLOST projects will prevent traffic jams during rush hour. Really? Why do I question whether the scheduled projects will make much difference at all in commute times?

Maybe it’s because moving millions of drivers twice a day long distances from Fayette County to Atlanta, or from Atlanta to Alpharetta, is going to involve a certain amount of frustrating road time no matter what road solutions are implemented. Am I overly cynical to re-characterize advertised commuting improvement as much ado about not much?

Have you noticed the T-SPLOST promoters ask whether you are concerned about transportation issues, a seeming trick question that answers itself and tees up T-SPLOST as the solution, as if this new layer of taxing authority is the salvation for your concerns?

Do you really believe the plan will resolve commuting problems, or do you know instinctively, as I do, that transporting millions every day in a wide local area will always be problematic, and that T-SPLOST projects might make things marginally better but nothing more?

Is it unfair of me to say T-SPLOST reminds me of a drug dealer handing out free samples to create permanent co-dependents? Forgive my dim view of bureaucrats, and mixing metaphors, but I would bet this first little 10-year taste will be like the fly discovering the spider web is so sticky there is no hope of escape.

Have you noticed I haven’t yet mentioned MARTA, the T-SPLOST elephant in the room, the 52 percent of planned revenue allocation, rarely mentioned in T-SPLOST promotion. While less than 5 percent of commuters use MARTA, over half the T-SPLOST funding is designated for transit projects. Take a few seconds to read that again.

A good transit system can be a blessing if commuter residences are sufficiently dense at the source point, and if job destinations are sufficiently concentrated at the target point, like in New York. In Georgia, of course, they are spread out on both ends, making transit a perpetual struggle to move the poor, not the commuting masses.

I said a “good” transit system, which I think leaves MARTA out anyway, since they have bungled operations and are billions in the red, despite subsidies, and hoping for a bailout. MARTA can’t even keep crime off the trains and buses or out of the stations or parking lots. Whether you want to ride MARTA or not, do you want to bail them out? Neither do I.

But a T-SPLOST hidden agenda to bail them out and promote MARTA expansion is just too far-fetched, anyway, isn’t it? I probably should forget the long-stated goals of some Atlanta officials to spread the cost of MARTA throughout the region, stating their belief it is unfair for central Atlanta to bear the cost.

Am I paranoid to suspect that T-SPLOST is the back-door means of permanently shifting part of the cost of MARTA to Fayette County? Is it too cynical to wonder if T-SPLOST dedicates 52 percent of the revenue to transit in a stealthy long-term “green” maneuver to expand the system, hoping to diminish the number of cars on the road?

Somehow I feel like I’m watching MARTA shells being moved quickly in a blur to conceal which one hides a pea.

If T-SPLOST is a means to letting the MARTA genie out of the bottle in Fayette County, whether to spread the cost or expand here or both, what are the chances we would ever be able to wrestle that genie back into the bottle and walk away with no MARTA entanglements? Just asking if that door is revolving or one-way?

I am told it should not matter to me that over half the T-SPLOST funds go to MARTA since Fayette County will receive back nearly all of its contribution in funding and scheduled projects, so other counties will contribute our share to transit. Is that a gambit to nudge us over the threshold in a marriage without a divorce option, or is my skepticism out of control? If we are a “receiver” county early on, do you wonder when and by how much we will become the “donor” county?

Does it bother you, too, that a regional committee, in which Fayette County has little influence since we have a mere 2.6 percent of the region’s voters, has the power to divvy up the pot into which Fayette County will be pouring lots of money?

I prefer that we in Fayette County pay our own way, keep our sovereignty and control our own money in the bargain. I’m naive, aren’t I?

How many of you believe the listed projects will actually be carried out as scheduled, remain on budget and be completed in the allotted 10 years, even with the “citizen panel” planned for project oversight? Maybe I’m not the only one with doubts.

Are the listed transportation projects good things for Georgia communities? I believe they are. But are they so good we must surrender ourselves to a regional commission on which we have little leverage? Are we to genuflect in gratitude and obedience to receive back from the commission a portion of the funds we contributed, our own money granted with conditions in a fashion disturbingly like the state’s relationship to the federal government?

As I understand it, the T-SPLOST tax and commission has a life of 10 years and no more, even though the projections indicate only part of the intended transit projects can be funded within those limits.

With the betrayal of the sunsetting Georgia 400 toll plaza fresh in our mind, am I too much of a curmudgeon to take a dim view of the promised end to this enterprise? Am I overly pessimistic to forecast that walking away from this regional obligation in 10 years to regain control over our own money will be very difficult?

Is it really necessary to create another level of government to get Fayette County projects done? Am I foolish in thinking perhaps we could keep control of our own county’s destiny, vote for or against our own county T-SPLOST, control our own money and work with other localities to get difficult projects done, like the 74/85 interchange outside our county but key to our commuters?

This July 31 vote will take place no matter how many questions I ask. Even if Fayette County disapproves, if the region as a whole does approve, we are locked in to be part of this regional process because, well, they need our money. Doesn’t that alone tell you all you need to know, or am I just gun-shy?

For me, there are way too many troublesome questions to support the T-SPLOST even without the alarming transit issues. With transit added, and multiplied since it is the majority player, I don’t think there is enough lipstick in Georgia to disguise this pig.

At least not for a grumpy old man like me, having been burned too many times by the pretty silk purse promises of government that usually turn into sows’ ears. But I’m still willing to listen.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]

efdrakejr
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More Than A Few Questions

Terry - Your article was more than a few questions so I’m not going to answer them all but instead focus on your first premise and tell you why I think you’re wrong.

Terry Garlock wrote:

Why is more tax and more government always the answer? I am reflexively troubled when told we must create yet another level of government, a region of 10 metro Atlanta counties, to make decisions on spending a new sales tax of 1 percent on transportation projects.

Like most states, Georgia pays for the bulk of their road work through the motor fuel tax. Georgia’s portion of the motor fuel tax is a combination of a 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax that was last raised in 1971 and a 4% tax on the average price per gallon. In the 42 years since the tax was last raised, average fuel economy has gone up by more than 40%, thus reducing the gallons used and the tax realized significantly, while at the same time the buying power of 7.5 cents has also diminished greatly. So, your argument that proponents believe more tax is the answer is incorrect. We just recognize that the existing tax base has diminished significantly and someting has to be done to correct that trend.

Further, the TSPLOST does not add more government. The Atlanta Regional Commission has been around essentially since the federal government mandated Metropolitan Planning Organizations as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962. Having a Transportation Roundtable is not adding more government either. It is just a committee of existing elected officials chosen to select the projects.

This is a very important vote and you are a respected voice in the community so I urge you to have your facts straight before you opine.

Gene Drake

tgarlock
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Gene Drake - TSPLOST and Obamacare

Gene, of all the taxes Georgia applies to a gallon of gas, how much goes to roads and transit, and how much goes into the general fund for our legislature to squander as they see fit, much as Congress has been doing with Social Security money for decades?

Maybe if we kept gasoline taxes focused on the ball - roads for the cars and trucks that burn the gas - we wouldn't need this albatross called TSPLOST.

And, Gene, you might not call it another layer of government, but I surely do when they have the authority to levy a tax and make decisions on where that tax money is spent. I know the arguments that we are voting in a referendum, but Fayette County will be compelled to levy the tax if the region votes it in, and however you dress up that pig it is still another layer of government to me.

TSPLOST and Obamacare have some common ground, in my opinion. In both cases, a real problem has been used to create a government monstrosity that has little to really do with solving the problem. That, of course, is just my opinion.

Terry Garlock

efdrakejr
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Obamacare?!?

Wow, you not only share Steve's lack of accurate information but are willing to engage in Steve Brown misdirection as well. Truthfully, I expected more but I'll get through it.

As for your question, the GA portion of the tax is a 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax and a 4% tax on the average price per gallon. Of that, the 7.5 cents and 3 of the 4% goes to GDOT for roads and bridges, none to transit. The other 1% of the 4% goes to the general fund. From the federal portion, which is 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn't been raised since 1993, it appears from a quick review of the highway bill that 15% can go toward transit.

The roundtable does not have the authority to levy a tax and neither does the ARC. The legislature has that authority and they are the ones that exercised it. They then simply appointed the county commission chairman and one mayor from each county as the committee to select the projects. This was done, by the way, to keep the process as close to the local level as possible. Much closer, I would add, than if bureaucrats at GDOT were selecting the projects. So, you can put lipstick on your argument but...

I'm not even going to dignify your TSPLOST / Obamacare comparison because it is beneath you and the kind of "bogeyman" scare tactics that don't advance a worthwhile debate.

Gene Drake

PS If anyone on here announces their affiliation more than me, I would like to know who it is.

istilldontknow
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TSPLOST - more more details!

Here are couple more places you can find information and answers that might provide some clarity from our friends at the GA DOT:

http://dot.state.ga.us/informationcenter/pressroom/Pages/FactCheck.aspx

http://dot.state.ga.us/localgovernment/FundingPrograms/transreferendum/P...

Some fact checking by the folks at the AJC:

http://www.politifact.com/georgia/article/2012/jul/12/transportation-tax...

And some more clarity from the folks at ARC:

FAQ - http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/documents/FAQ_june_6...

Transit expansion maps: http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/documents/project_ma...

Transit preservation maps:
http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/documents/project_ma...

Get your data from the sources and make up your own mind!

mike Sims
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Tsplost

A few numbers for Fayette county.
Fayette will contribute 3.1% to the total dollars collected in the Region.
Fayette will receive back from the 25% and the 75%, as their share from the Region collections, 2.3%.

So you contribute 3.1% and get back 2.3%.
So where does the money go? Fulton county and Atlanta of course.

Every county in the Region is a donor to Fulton and Atlanta.
Fulton and Atlanta contribute 19% and will get back 34.1%.

If you want to throw your money into the bottomless pit of Fulton and Atlanta, by all means vote for the tax.

istilldontknow
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Swing and a miss...

Mike Sims - the ARC region's split is 85/15 instead of the 75/25 the other regions in the state are getting.

I feel like I need to repost this every week now (I pushed this out first May 31).

Show me where you reference your stats, since I showed my work on mine:

========================================================
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (for those who hate reading and research):
1. Fayette County will get back about 100% of what they put in for projects that benefit citizens of Fayette County.

2. Paying one penny per dollar for improving our home is just as easy as giving to your favorite charity, and charity begins at home.
========================================================

The gory details...

http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/documents/following_...

So Fayette County will be contributing an estimated $223 million to get back $53 million for local (in County projects). That's 23% we get back and 77% that gets put into the region. Ouch!

Well, now let's see the projects that are of regional benefit that will affect MY ride (because, hey, that's what it's all about, right?)

Some links if you want to follow along:

http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/documents/project_ma...

http://documents.atlantaregional.com/TIA/FAYETTE-TIA-for-ARC-Board-4-25-...

Interactive map - http://www.metroatlantatransportationreferendum.com/map/TIA.html

These are the REGIONAL PROJECTS that are actually happening in Fayette County, from what I'm reading, so actually this will be more than the $53 million for other local projects:

-MacDuff Parkway extension - $6.4 million
-Two new path extensions down on the south side of PTC - $1.2 and $1.15, so $2.35 million
-East Fayetteville Bypass - $35 million
-Improvements to GA 85 - $12 million TIA funds and GA 92 - $20 million for North part and $15.9 million for the South part
-Improvements to GA 54 from Tara Blvd to McDonough Rd - $8 million, but I'll cut that to $2 million for the "Fayette County portion" to be conservative

So add that up, and we have an additional $93.65 million to add to that $53 million of "local discretion projects" - so that's $146.65 million of benefits we get in Fayette County for paying an estimated $223 million in.

That's now 65% to the County, 35% to "the rest of the region". Looking better.

OK, what will help me get to work in ATL?
-Intersection Improvements at GA 74 /I-85 - $11.25 million
-Starting the Commuter Rail process in from Griffin through Clayton County to ATL - $20 million
- Infrastructure/Bridge fixes to MARTA from Airport to College Park and fix the pedestrian bridge over US 29 at the Lakewood MARTA station - $90 million overall, but I'll say $15 million to just focus on the areas we might use.
- Replace bridges downtown on/near Central Ave. - $27 million
- Coordinate traffic lights and fix issues on Boulevard - $1.15 million
- Fix Ponce from Spring to Clifton - ooh, that works when I have to go to Emory - $.618 million
- Fix Peachtree from Spring to Trinity - yeah, that really does back up unnecessarily, doesn't it? - $.434 million

OK, just using those things in places I go fairly regularly, that's another $75 million to help me on my commute from Fayette County to ATL. Add that up, and we now have $221.65 million in expenses for Fayette County's $223 million contribution, and that's for ONE PARTICULAR PERSON'S COMMUTE. I think paying that tax will benefit me quite well.

Now, how much will I really pay?

OK, so as an individual taxpayer paying sales taxes on, let's say, $1,000 per month on shopping in town, that means I will pay $10 per month, or $120 per year, or $1,200 in 10 years, to work toward these fixes?

Where do I sign up?

Local control/regional control arguments are nice, but who maintains Highway 54, 74 and 85 now? That's right, the state does. Who keeps up the Interstate you hop on when you go to Atlanta? That's right - the state and other jurisdictions.

We can't put up a fence around the county and charge a toll - folks come in and out, and should, just as we do when we have to get things that aren't in our County (and unless you control all manufacturing and supply, EVERYTHING WE GET COMES FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE).

Will I pay $120 a year to allow someone I don't know a better ride to work, school or the doctor, or allow someone (maybe even me) a potentially better experience? Will I spend money to help invest in making our area stay vibrant and get good jobs so we can refill all of these foreclosed homes?

Sure - I give more to charity each year, why not contribute some of that here at home.

You might guess that I have made up my mind on this issue, and I know I won't sway anyone with my arguments, but if you want a perfect solution, call me when you find it. This is "close enough for government work" for me. If you don't like it, buy all of your goods outside of the region and drive them back in so you don't have to participate in this :)

YourGoodPalMike
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It's of no benefit to my family

I have a feeling that a lot of people in our nation vote against their own best interests. I think it's a pride thing, an ignorance thing or something. I really don't understand it. Or they get so wrapped up in one issue (usually a social issue) that they will do anything to get their "team" elected, no matter the personal consequences.

In other words, the attitude of many (although not a conscience thought) is "don't confuse me with the facts."

T-SPLOST will not have any positive effect on my family, but will certainly drain me of another percentage of my pay.

I know the issue, and I am voting NO on any new taxes. Metro traffic congestion is only a problem because people make it a problem. If they carpool they'll see less cars on the road. Let me know when traffic is at gridlock and every car has three or four people instead of just one. Then we'll know there's a real problem.

Steve Brown
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TSPLOST

We had the AJC/GPB TSPLOST debate this evening. The pro-TSPLOST side cannot answer the critical questions like, “If we cannot pay the operations and maintenance costs of the current transit system then how will we cover the exorbitant costs of a significantly expanded version?” They do not know.

An interesting article, “1 percent sales tax for transportation: For first time, officials acknowledge it may last more than 10 years,” The Saporta Report, July 21, 2011, details how the transit projects are only half-funded and it would take another ten years of tax to complete them.

“[Rep. Ed] Setzler, R-Acworth, called the plan a ‘$6.1 billion bait-and-switch’ that was presented as a way to alleviate traffic congestion in metro Atlanta but became more about economic development.” - AJC

Rep. Setzler is dead-on the mark.

It's not what we are getting out of the TSPLOST, but it's what we are getting into (without the ability to exit).

istilldontknow
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So...instead of doing the county's business...

including discussing putting in an interim County administrator until the end of the year, someone you seem to have an interest in, you ran up to Atlanta to participate in a T-SPLOST debate and quote various other news sources that feed your fear factory!

Yeah, the management of the County is obviously less important to you. Seems like someone is hunting for the Gold Dome again, isn't he?

stranger than f...
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Foggy Thinking

Mr. Garlock is certainly correct about several things. He is clearly a novice in understanding many issues (including transportation), and he is usually in a fog.

Confession is so good for the soul Terry.

AtHomeGym
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"Stranger", Foggy & Garlock

I notice you don't make any attempt to "clear the air" and explain things--all you do is launch a personal attack-not much of a valuable contribution but since you've only been around for a short time, maybe we will see improvement.

stranger than f...
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Valuable contribution?

My point is clear: Mr. Garlock begins his opinion column by stating that he knows little of the topic he will address. He then commits 1,458 more words to sharing his foggy thinking. Furthermore, Mr. Garlock has a long history with this newspaper of sharing opinions about things outside the range of his expertise. Rather than a personal attack, my comments are a concise description of Mr. Garlock’s current and past contributions to this newspaper. I suppose that value is in the eye of the beholder; I value conciseness with clear expression. However, I’m always open to personal improvement.

AtHomeGym
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?Valuable Contribution

Yes, I agree that your point is clear--you disagree with Terry's opinions! Nothing wrong with that but it would seem the best way to express that is to present your own opinion in contrast. Making a personal, general comment does nothing to tell others WHY you disagree. All I know is that when I met and talked with him and a room full of other Vietnam Vets for breakfast Saturday, I didn't detect any "fogginess" on his part at all!

stranger than f...
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Thank you athomegym

Thank you for your response. To clarify, I hope that future contributors to the Citizen will comment on issues to which they bring some expertise or researched opinion.

S. Lindsey
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Most agree with you it seems

as do I.
Another tax, another level of Government is not needed.

Maybe the Governor and his pal at the National Guard can stop using taxpayer dollars flying around the State in Blackhawks and save enough for this project all by itself.

conditon55
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Tsplost Rules

The history of how TSPLOST came about is a long and winding road.

But there is no mystery about it. Every thing is spelled out here:
The entire project list is available for review 24/7 365.
http://www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com/

If you do not like it, and it fails, there will be renewed efforts to move forward.

All transit planning in Atlanta will deal with Marta. Atlanta and Georgia will not through away a billion dollars investment in rail transit of a little belly aching nay sayers. So then the questin become, how to make the system viable.

That will be concept 4. The successor to concept3. http://www.transitboard.org/concept3

And its not going to be about 16 lanes highways and grid lock at midnight.

Citizen_Steve
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Concept #?

Which concept # addresses the MARTA body odor problem? That's a non-negotiable prerequisite for my support, as well as my ridership.

Steve

YourGoodPalMike
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Just pretend to sleep

I took MARTA a few times (before I had a family to worry about), and those few experiences weren't positive. Young, sagging men yelling at complete strangers, and everyone who was actually going to work pretended to sleep so as to not make eye contact.

I rode the NY subway system and it's a lot friendlier than MARTA. Now that's saying something.

Part of the problem in the Atlanta metro area is that if you start cracking down on crime like Rudy Guliani did in NY, you get hassled as a bigot.

Come to think of it, maybe he could become mayor of Atlanta.

AtHomeGym
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Citizen Steve & Body Odor

Not to worry--part of the Splost money will go towards purchasing/installing metal detectors at every Marta entrance. To insure you don't have hidden weapons, you must raise both arms above your head. When you do that concealed nozzles in the detector automaticaly give you 2 squirts of Right Guard in the appropriate places! Problem solved--all aboard!

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