Transportation Referendum: Who benefits? Who Doesn’t?

Here is the good news and bad news on the transportation referendum. If the referendum were held today it is unlikely it would pass according to a recent Insight 20/20 poll of 600 likely voters in the 10-county metro Atlanta region. The poll revealed that if the referendum was held today 47% of the respondents would oppose it, 42% would support it, and 11% would be undecided. The good news is the referendum won’t be held until August 2012 giving the proponents and many elected officials time to craft a winning strategy.

The strategy needs to accommodate the interests of growing suburban voters, Hispanic voters and Black voters all whose numbers have swelled in the last decade according to the 2010 Census. The winning transportation strategy must appeal to the nearly million voters who live in Dekalb and Fulton Counties, who support Marta, with their one-penny sales tax and have done so for 40 years. Aside from that group, the strategy must balance the interests of suburban and inner city voters to pass.

Some people may think the dismal economic climate is to blame for the strong opposition to voters increasing their taxes, but a majority of voters surveyed supported increasing taxes to support education funding. Specifically, 53% of those surveyed stated they were in favor of increasing taxes for smaller classrooms and better teachers in their school systems, while only 42% were opposed. Moreover, 31% of those opposed and 56% of those undecided to the transportation tax are in favor of the education tax, which shows that voters will pay additional services that they value.

Recent local option sales taxes presented to voters have passed in most if not all of the counties, so what’s the big fuss? Is it a matter of leadership? Is it the governor’s position on transportation? One would think that suburban voters would look to the governor to have a public role since the suburbs are leaning Republican in most elections. Or is the fuss about representation on the planning committee? The fuss is and always is how will the money be spent. Who benefits? Who doesn’t? The first MARTA referendum didn’t pass until a balance was struck between inner city and county interests. As congested, as traffic is every day in Atlanta, the balance of interests in the final project list is as important now as it was 40 years ago.

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