Atlanta area voters said “no” to a proposed $7 billion transportation tax that was promoted as a solution to the metropolitan area’s legendary traffic congestion, despite a campaign in which supporters outspent opponents by more than 500 to one.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the measure lost 63% to 37%. This 26% margin of loss was nearly three times the margin shown in most recent poll by the Journal-Constitution. Proponents had claimed that the measure was “dead even” three days before the election. Supporters spent up to $8.5 million on the campaign. Opponents raised less than $15,000.
The tax issue failed in all 10 counties. The defeats were modest in Fulton County (the core county, which includes most of the city of Atlanta) and DeKalb County (which contains the rest of Atlanta). Huge “no” vote margins were recorded in the largest suburban counties. In Gwinnett County, the no votes prevailed by a margin of 71% to 29%. In adjacent Cobb County, the margin was 69% to 31%.
On election morning, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution featured opposing commentaries by regional planning agency (Atlanta Regional Commission) Chairman Tad Leithead and me. Chairman Leithead stressed the view that the tax would lead to reduced traffic congestion, job creation and economic development. My column stressed the view that the disproportionate spending on transit (53 percent of the money for one percent of the travel market) would not reduce traffic congestion.
Observation on the Result
Voters were asked for $7 billion to not reduce traffic congestion. The electorate was wise enough to know that spending more than 50 times as much per transit rider as per car passenger could not reduce traffic congestion in a city where transit moves only one percent of travel. The result was thus a genuine blow for rational public policy. Atlanta needs transportation that builds the economy by minimizing travel times and reducing traffic congestion. That means getting the traffic moving, not politically correct dead-end strategies out of an anti-economic growth (and ideological) playbook.