As was noted in a comment on yesterday's post,one of the reasons for the defeat of T-SPLOST frequently cited in exit polls and for so many Atlanta-area residents to have voted against their own self-interest (if one can assume that relieving gridlock is in the best interest of the residents) was a lack of trust in elected officials to manage the money properly. If new revenues are generated, how can one be sure that the money will be spent as intended, or won't wind up being embezzled? Even though the funds by law would have to have been spent on the transit and highway projects, many people expressed skepticism that it would actually happen that way.
Georgians in general and Atlantans in particular have ample reason not to trust politicians with sums of money. Consider the following:
- After his term in office, former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell was convicted of income tax evasion and served a 30-month sentence in prison.
- Former Governor Sonny Purdue had promised that toll booths on Georgia Highway 400 would come down at the end of 2011, but later reneged on the promise and left them up. Now, with the defeat of T-SPLOST, current Governor Nathan Deal is hinting that funds for repairs to the I-285/Hwy. 400 intersection are going to have to come from somewhere, a statement many people feel is a notice that the toll booths will stay up for a long, long time.
- Fees charged against generators of hazardous waste went to a trust fund that was supposed to be used to clean up contaminated sites. Former Governor Purdue used the funds for highway projects instead, and reduced the size of the state's environmental protection agency and cut the hours and pay of its staff.
This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, although Georgia is not at all unique in problems like this. Sometimes giving new tax funds to politicians is not unlike giving cash to a junkie - you know the money's not going to be used for the purpose they said it was.
But here in the South, and in this particular primary as well, the lack of trust is also tainted, as so many things here are, by race. At least at the City level, much of the administration is black, and the affluent, white suburbs have reservations about trusting not only elected officials, but in particular elected officials of another race, with their tax revenues. It comes down to a lack of trust in "others," and although there is ample evidence that the trust has been abused in the past by politicians of both races, each side of the racial divide seems to have less trust in those on the other side of the line.
I have personally spoken to white friends and neighbors who worried that the T-SPLOST funds, instead of being used for transit, would go to urban renewal projects, affordable housing, and welfare programs to benefit the underprivileged, black community, and I have personally spoken to black friends who expressed concern that all of the transit projects and road improvements would occur in the upscale white neighborhoods while their neighborhoods were left with decaying infrastructure, as has happened many time in the past.
That the politicians need to regain the trust of the people they serve has been an often repeated editorial conclusion from the recent election. But without being given a chance to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, how does that trust get regained? Many of the most distrustful voters, one can assume, will only trust their elected officials when they have the same color skin as they have.