Can a big-ticket transportation campaign do the trick?


When I moved to Atlanta in 1972, voters in Fulton and DeKalb, with considerable political support from Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb leaders, had just passed the MARTA sales tax referendum to fund rail transit.  The 1971 vote was the second try because it originally failed in 1968.  The ’71 campaign was not easy and the stories passed down by insiders might be instructive on the outcome of the upcoming T-SPLOST 2012 vote.

The first MARTA referendum was met with tremendous resistance from African-Americans, intown neighborhood activists, advocates for the poor and small business owners. The campaign message of reducing traffic congestion and promoting business along the rail transit corridors was made, but the campaign leadership of the day wasn’t able to make a compelling case to pass the vote in 1968.

But 1972 was a different story. Folklore has it that civic and business leaders made concessions to the opponents that expanded business opportunities for small businesses including those owned and operated by minorities and women and developed an affirmative action plan to insure new job opportunities for minorities and women at the highest levels of the transit agency. Advocates for the poor won a record low fare of $0.15 per ride. Finally, commitments were made to build rail in at least two underserved parts of Atlanta and DeKalb County.  Agreement was made between opponents and supporters on key policy issues and MARTA rail was born as the referendum passed in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.


Can the $9 million T SPLOST 2012 campaign budget – the most expensive ever for a primary election in the history of Georgia (statewide campaigns included) – with billboards, massive television and radio advertising buys, months of media coverage, countless email updates, dozens of paid field “consultants”, and a half dozen direct mail flyers replace intensive grassroots organizing and a consensus plan that led to victory in 1972?  Or will T-SPLOST follow its 1968 predecessor and fail on the first attempt?

Who will vote on July 31? The polls numbers being shared in the media and amongst insiders are all over the place.  Supporters say they expect it to pass while some pollsters predict failure. No one knows for sure as the outcome will largely be impacted by the demographics of the voters who come to the polls this month.

Is there enough voter enthusiasm in Fulton and DeKalb Counties (the same counties that passed the referendum in 1971) to balance the referendum’s likely loss among voters in other parts of the region?

What is plan B?  If T-SPLOST 2012 fails, as was the case with the first MARTA vote, should we get ready for T-SPLOST 2014? Who will pick up the pieces and fashion the winning plan for transportation and the campaign?

The big question is can you pass a tax that meets the expectations of likely voters and satisfies those who want the transportation projects but are less likely to vote for the tax?

One thing is for sure; there is no easy answer to that question.



  1. We, Its people, are slow in Georgia., I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. If you drive a vehicle you will know, even the traffic is slowing down with the adding of more and more cars and trucks. Hopefully there will be NO accidents.( highly unavoidable).
    This problem is NOT going to decrease but increase over more time and we as citizens would be wise to address the growing need to a alternative mode of transportation.
    People need to have relaxing and affordable,fast means of getting around Altanta and surrounding communities.Most of the design could follow the existing No./So I-75,E/W I-20 and ?.The station hub can be located outside of Atlanta to avoid congestion. Study what our cities have successfully done and duplicate to. This project could branch out to help sitmulate economy and relations with our neighbors in Florida and connecting cities to the East Coast. Anyhting is possible….
    Fundings you say? With the amount collected from the Ad Valorem Tax per vehicle that adds up.
    Finally….. I would like to see OUR cities( AtlantUS) be in the leadership role with modern high tech, Best Schools and Colleges, low homelessness and NO One Goes hungry. Friends, this is not impossible but only with good unselfish leadership, curb the corruption and thief…… get a control on waste+ good management and a good health Fear of God……… Thats all WE need to be very successful…. Its over due.