Thursday, August 02, 2012


Here in Georgia, we had a local primary election back on July 31 that also included some special initiatives, the most significant of which was something called the Transportation Special Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST for short.  This initiative would have added one cent to the sales tax in the 10-county Greater Atlanta Region to fund a variety of sorely needed traffic and transit projects, including the Atlanta Beltline.  

While a tax on virtually all sales, including food, is regressive by nature (the poor will pay a greater percentage of their net income on the tax than the more well to do), it seemed to be the best solution given the current economy to move forward on transportation issues.  As almost any visitor to Atlanta is soon aware, the city suffers from some of the worst gridlock in the nation, and the public transit system, MARTA, is undersized, underutilized, and constantly being throttled back for fiscal reasons.  It took years of wrangling to even get the T-SPLOST initiative on the ballot, and it is not likely to ever appear on the ballot again.

T-SPLOST was strongly opposed by many, including the Tea Party faction, as yet another new tax on the already overburdened population, and many automobile-dependent suburbanites simply didn't see the need for mass transit ("I never use MARTA - why should I pay to expand something I don't need?").  The proponents and opposition tended to break down along urban and suburban-and-rural lines, and the vote became something of a referendum on Atlanta vs. the rest of the State of Georgia.

The initiative was soundly defeated, despite vocal bipartisan support from Atlanta's Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia's Republican Governor Nathan Deal.  The Tea Party held victory celebrations and crowed that they were able to overcome the seemingly overwhelming opposing forces.

The long and the short of it is that now Atlanta has no solution in sight for its transportation and transit problems, no end in sight to the gridlock, and no framework for future infrastructure development.  The region is already losing new prospective employers because of the traffic and gridlock and losing the bright, young graduates of colleges like Georgia Tech and Emory to other, more forward-looking cities, and it's only going to get worse.

Back in 2001, in his book The City in Mind - Meditations on the Urban Condition, James Howard Kunstler foresaw the collapse of the mortgage-based economy, predicting that a future "Repo Economy" will destroy Atlanta's overdeveloped housing market. He concluded a long and insightful analysis of Atlanta's condition with the pessimistic assessment, 
In my view, Atlanta has become such a mess that really nothing can be done to redeem it as a human habitat. Like the other great, roaring, car-dependent megalopoli of the American Sunbelt, Atlanta's only plausible destiny at the threshold of the new millennium is to become significantly depopulated.  
With the defeat of T-SPLOST, Atlanta removed one of its last safeguards against Kunstler's prediction.

No comments: