I am voting yes for the transportation referendum because I want the metro region and Georgia to remain vibrant and competitive.
Our nation has a crisis of aging infrastructure. In 2002, the U.S. had an infrastructure quality ranking of number 5 worldwide. In 2011, we slipped to number 24 and we’ve been lapped by the likes of Bahrain, Barbados, and Oman. Click here to read more about our failing transportation infrastructure. This is especially a challenge for cash-strapped states. Click here to read the Report of the State Budget Crisis Task Force.
The question, of course, is how to pay for improvements in infrastructure that will drive economic prosperity. Tax increases are never popular, and today there is widespread skepticism about the ability of government to use public money for the public good. With respect to infrastructure, there are only so many ways to fund improvements. These include gas taxes, tolls, and user fees, but none of these options has any political backing.
While the debate rages over how to pay for improvements, there is little debate that investment in infrastructure is badly needed and essential to being competitive in a hyper-competitive global economy.
Georgia has terrific infrastructure assets that include the Port of Savannah and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But, we also have our challenges. Traffic in the metro region is first and foremost among them. In short, our demand for transportation far exceeds our current supply.
The transportation referendum is designed to improve the transportation infrastructure in our region. When you vote, you will be casting your ballot on whether to approve a 1% sales tax that would expire after ten years. The tax will fund only projects on the approved list which can be accessed here. Background information can be found at the AJC’s transportation referendum page and you can click here to view an interactive map of the proposed projects.
I would also suggest that when you evaluate whether to support the referendum you consider the hidden costs of traffic. You can view a chart prepared by the Texas Transportation Institute as part of its 2011 Urban Mobility Report. These costs include hours of delay (43 per week in Atlanta), excess fuel use (20 gallons per week in Atlanta), and congestion cost per auto commuter. PolitiFact Georgia confirmed that, on average, the cost per commuter for all this inconvenience is several hundred dollars a year greater than the cost of the tax.
There has been wide debate about the project list and whether it will solve our transportation issues. I have carefully read about and listened to this debate and I appreciate the views from both sides. I am sympathetic to concerns about raising taxes (especially so as a DeKalb resident who will again pay a penny more) but I also agree with the business community and policy experts that infrastructure investment drives growth and will improve upon our existing infrastructure, which is by all accounts insufficient.
I am voting yes because I believe that a yes vote gives our state, and our metropolitan region, the best chance to prosper economically. The rest of the world is watching and what we do with this vote will send a powerful signal about whether Georgia is willing to invest in its future. Among others, The Economist and the Council on Foreign Relations have published stories about the referendum and these sources influence the world's business leaders.
If we vote yes, we will send a strong signal that Georgia wants to be the most competitive it can be. It will also show that we are willing to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of investing in infrastructure when most of our competitors are not.
Similarly, my biggest fear of a no vote is that it will send a signal to the business community, both here and abroad, that Georgia is content with the status quo - when everyone knows the status quo is not working.