Sierra Club joins Tea Parties in opposing transportation tax

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The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club said Monday it opposes the July 31 referendum on a one-cent sales tax, the T-SPLOST, that would be used to pay for highway and related transportation projects across the state.

“This project list is primarily a business-as-usual sprawl-inducing road program,” said Colleen Kiernan, the Georgia chapter’s director. “We support Plan B — a fix-it-first road strategy and a project list that emphasizes transit expansion and improvement.”

Kiernan was referring to the lists of projects, primarily involving highway construction, that would be funded in each of the state’s 12 regions where voters will be deciding whether to approve the special sales tax.

Sierra Club officials say that not enough of the revenues raised by T-SPLOST for the metro Atlanta region would be used to pay for non-highway projects, such as mass transit improvements.

“While much discussion has focused on the transit component of the project list, the T-SPLOST is first and foremost a road building initiative,” the organization said in a news release.

“Claims by pro-transit supporters that 52 percent of revenues [in metro Atlanta] would go to transit do not account for the 15 percent local set-aside, which is expected to go primarily to roads; the final total for transit would be closer to 40 percent. Given that existing transportation funding already overwhelmingly favors roads, passage of the T-SPLOST would only further entrench that divide,” the Sierra Club said.

The Sierra Club’s decision to oppose the T-SPLOST referendum puts it on the same side of the issue as the various Tea Party organizations in Georgia – who ironically oppose the T-SPLOST because they don’t want the revenues used to pay for transit projects.

As the July 31 vote nears, the road tax issue is driving wedges between factions who normally find themselves in alliance on most issues, as well as bringing together unlikely partners such as the Tea Party and the Sierra Club.

There was a similar alliance of “strange bedfellows” during this year’s General Assembly session when Tea Partiers and labor organizations both opposed a bill sponsored by Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) that would have outlawed picketing and mass protests in residential areas. Balfour’s bill ultimately failed to pass.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a liberal Democrat from the 4th Congressional District, said over the weekend he is supporting approval of the T-SPLOST tax.

“This referendum represents our best hope of relieving congestion in metropolitan Atlanta; we must act now to address our traffic problems throughout our region and further delay will only compound our problems,” Johnson said in a news release. “Passage of this referendum will increase the transportation options throughout the region.”

During a public forum in Cherokee County last week sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission, there was some public skepticism towards the transportation tax.

As reported by the Cherokee Tribune:

About $279 million of the tax is expected to be generated in Cherokee and $268.5 million of that will remain in the county, giving the county a 95 percent return on its investment.

Of that $268.5 million, the county will divide up 15 percent, or $71.5 million, among its six cities.

Some in the audience didn’t want to hear any of it.

Conrad Quagliaroli, a member of the Cherokee TEA Party Patriots, said he’d “rather have the money stay here in Cherokee County.”

When asked what alternatives he would suggest, he said he would be in favor of a bus line, but added he was “dead set” against using mass transit options.

Unincorporated Cherokee County resident Tony Wuest said he felt Thursday’s meeting was a little bit “one-sided.”

He said he wanted to see more of a debate structure than a question and answer format.

He noted he had concerns about MARTA and its operations as his sticking points on why he’s reluctant to support the referendum.

“I’m still in the process of investigating,” he said.

“We hope Atlanta can follow the example of Seattle, defeat the current proposal and get right to work on Plan B,” Kiernan said. “Other funding options that should be considered include restructuring the gas tax, charging more for parking, and an expanded regional transit agency.”

© 2012 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Colleen Kiernan , hank johnson , July 31 referendum , Sierra Club , T-SPLOST , Tea Party