The anti-tax Tea party in Georgia teamed with some unlikely bedfellows to convince Atlanta voters to nix a plan to spend $7.2 billion in traffic and transit improvements.
While the vote on Tuesday might be seen as confirmation that conservatives don’t like any government spending, it is more likely that voters saw correctly, that the plan, backed by the state’s political heavyweights, was flawed. What else would explain the Sierra Club and the NAACP in making common cause with the anti-tax crowd?
There were several things wrong with the plan, promoted by Georgia’s republican governor and Atlanta’s democrat mayor, from the outset. First was that they wanted to pull the $7.2 billion from a 1-cent sales tax. Big mistake. Transportation improvements should be funded through a gas tax.
Georgia already has an above average (for the region) state gas tax. But it is patently unfair to ask people who don’t drive or who drive fuel-efficient vehicles, or who were smart enough to live close to where they work pay as much as people who don’t do these things. And a sales tax hits poor people disproportionately.
Additionally, gas taxes at least partially modify the behaviors that cause traffic gridlock in the first place. And it’s the only funding alternative that gives people the maximum choice and freedom. If you don’t care about the tax then have fun and blow it out your tailpipe. If you don’t like the tax, you can drive a Prius or a Harley.
Second, only half the projects in the proposal would have gone to easing Atlanta’s terrible traffic, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Concern was that elements of the proposal such as a 10 mile streetcar loop in the tonier sections of town and light rail lines were more about wooing the affluent yuppie voter, rather than solving problems in a more efficient manner. The libertarian Reason Foundation was right on the money when it commented that an upgraded bus service would do more to relive congestion that either the streetcars or light rail.
The Tea party coalition, to it’s credit put forth a Plan B to address some of these needs. But given the time and expense it takes to organize a referendum vote it’s doubtful any more progress will be made in this direction for a while. Atlanta’s big money establishment blew a good chance to make fundamental improvements to their city.
The conclusion is pretty clear. When right-wing libertarians, urban blacks and environmentalists gang up against you–you know you’re wrong. The establishment spent $8-million lobbying voters for the plan. The Tea party coalition spent $15,000 and won by a margin of 63 to 37 percent. That’s how out of touch the establishment is and how much smarter the people are.