In a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution commentary I detailed the complexity of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) that voters will either accept or reject next Tuesday July 31st. The metro Atlanta T-SPLOST will fund a list of transportation projects in the ten county Atlanta Regional Commission planning area. Residents of each of Georgia’s 159 counties, located in one of 12 different regions, will vote on a local project list. However, regions outside of Atlanta have much more in common with each other due to Atlanta’s greater population, greater tax revenue, and inclusion of rail transit. The other 11 regions have less controversial project lists and fewer transportation needs.
With Georgia ranked 49th in transportation spending, the question should focus not on whether the state needs to increase investment in its transportation network, but what is the best, most efficient and politically realistic way to do so.
Given this framework, there are reasons for voting for and against the Transportation Investment Act.
Metro Atlanta needs to solve its congestion issues: Residents waste a significant portion of time — and money — stuck in traffic. Transit service is inadequate; frequency and coverage are below cities of similar size.
Competitors, including Charlotte, Dallas and Houston, have comprehensive transportation strategies, while other Southern states such as North Carolina and Texas have approved local sales taxes for transportation.
Funding transportation infrastructure with a sales tax is not optimal, primarily because such a tax has no relationship to the usage of the transportation system.
It is politically easier to increase a single tax, especially a tax where tourists contribute a significant amount, but it is arguable that a mix of taxes and user fees would be a better solution.
Transit is important for metro Atlanta’s future and deserves some regional and state funding.
But increasing transit service, a laudable goal, should not come at the expense of developing and maintaining a quality highway network — the overwhelmingly preferred travel mode in the region.
Read the entire commentary here.