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Post-TSPLOST: Plan B Tail Can’t Wag Vision X Dog

Can state and local leaders admit to getting the cart before the horse, trying to put their socks over their shoes – on financing anyway?

After subjecting the electorate to the TSPLOST one-step two-step routine promising economic Nirvana (vote “yes”) on one hand and threatening Armageddon on another (vote “no”)—the Atlanta booster club has changed its tune in record time lest the outside world thinks the city/region needs Prozac. The message from on high is now that “losing” is not so bad, it’ll just take a little longer for Atlanta to recapture its mojo (the jazz version of Atlanta’s fabled Phoenix rising from the ashes). Hey! Our fair city’s bumper worthy moniker isn’t “The Big Hustle” for nada.

While on the subject of Atlanta’s spirited story line, one thing that the TSPLOST vote may indicate is that the further we reach into the exurbs the less the CITY’s  mythology matters. At points beyond Cobb and Gwinnett, the progressive faith in Atlanta’s rise to international power dissolves into something a bit less “ethereal”, where rubber actually meets the road (in more ways than one)—just as it does state wide. Furthermore, Atlanta may be a region geographically, physically connected by latter 20th century feats of engineering, but in terms of governance no manner of legislative trickery can persuade The People to form a single jurisdiction, whether in charter or with pseudo authorities. Such entities would have to originate from more courageous and imaginative legislators than are currently on hand.

If nothing else, state and local leaders could at least admit to getting the cart before the horse, trying to put their socks over their shoes—on financing anyway. Maybe the “Generals Assembled” in the Gold Dome (as well as their follow-on pump show) should have taken a cue from former governor Purdue’s plan for water supply in the Atlanta region, admitting that the solution would have to incorporate at least four measures—reservoirs, inter-basin transfers, conservation and a Lanier Pact. It’s not so much about project types, it’s more the fact that these are paid for by multiple and various means. Not only that, but no water plan was ever contemplated as a referendum or general sales tax. That avoids the stupidity of relying on voters sticking a shiv up their own butts—BEFORE doing other things.

We now know that reservoirs will be public/private developments; conservation is “paid” for by household savings and incentives (read: behavioral change); Lake Lanier is a Federal asset; and we’ll finance the basin transfer system with state or local bonds. Note, all of these decisions will be made by people we elect, not by suicidal public referendums—and they are “projects of regional significance”, neigh, water itself is an entire strategy of regional merit, without any doubt or discussion needed. The projects add up to a strategic vision (a Vision X) to more than the value of its individual pieces (Plans A or B or … in TSPLOST vernacular)—and possibly more usefully, with benefits (figures, volumes) that were accurately prepared by experts (not salesman) years ago.

What are the region’s limits to growth? Water and transportation.

Most people who are paying attention have got to wonder when the governor and state legislature are going to stop spending time rejecting the idea of another sales tax referendum. The state needs to consider its leadership role with incentives, promotion and coordination, not only the total funding source. Start presenting an overall vision of large projects using multiple financing sources and opportunities (Vision X). Broadly, shouldn’t congestion be relieved by road work, possibly with state funds (gas tax increases and tolls) dealing with the suburban/exurban “fringe”? Can’t CIDs and TADs look at the inner city street infrastructure? How do you frame mass transit in a way that the city (if not the region) buys into a “city of the future” investment consortium, including philanthropic and private sector seed money to back  Federal grants and loans? With regard to leadership, it seems to me that the state-level Elect really should use all of the tools in their basket to get things moving again. Not just cars but also politics.

Further on leadership, If you want a turn off out-of-state corporations trying to find a new home, the recently publicized “I’ll never challenge the status quo” by the state’s chief executive is far more troubling than a “no” vote by taxpayers having trouble buying groceries. It was irresponsible for an elected official to cavalierly dismiss ANY possible new funding source the day after voters reject a self-imposed sales tax—at the location of the state’s most recent economic development success, Baxter Pharmaceuticals along I-20 East.

Regarding potential highway “users” behavioral changes similar to water conservation, Kyle Wingfield of the AJC mentions Atlanta’s current out of proportion “centricity”—only 8% of the region’s population lives within Atlanta’s city limits—wayyyyy off the national average of 25%. The “sprawl quotient” could also include how few live in all municipalities in the region, with the average being less than 10,000 per.  Leadership involves out-of-the-box thinking and consensus processes to primarily make sure any money spent merges with trends in future living and economic development. Obviously our employers, private industry, public, NGOs and academies will increase in more sense living centers. The Emory U complex is a city in its own right—and growing.

Land use and economic development policies are the ugly step sister to transportation needs. What incentives are there to identify the housing of the future (near employment), clearly establishing the viability of mass transit—and role in economic development (our cheerleaders’ main concern?). One of those incentives (disincentives?) would be investing less in infrastructure where it is inefficient to support. In other words, like farms, you’re welcome to live in stretch subdivisions—but the public trough won’t be support it as much from now on.

As one can see, the governor’s childish pissy announcement that there won’t be a Plan B shouldn’t concern us, because we may not even need one—particularly “offered” as a sales tax. We don’t need a Plan B project list, we don’t need a Plan B finance plan. We need a Finance Vision X that includes all of the projects that are already been conceived and leaders already know darn well what’s going to pay for them. When you add them all up, we might even find out that a TSPLOST was never need in the first place.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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