Last week, Metro Atlanta’s voters overwhelmingly rejected the T-SPLOST referendum. In most participating counties, the referendum failed broadly. Ninety-seven percent of Cobb County’s precincts voted no, and 99% of Gwinnett County’s precincts voted no.
Results from Fulton and DeKalb were far more complicated. In these counties, the vast majority of intown residents supported the measure while the vast majority of suburban residents turned it down (see attached heat map and table). The split did not fall on traditional lines of class or race.
- Wealthy residents voted for and against T-SPLOST, depending on where they lived. The average household income in Milton (North Fulton) is $99,402. Seventy-one percent of Milton’s residents rejected T-SPLOST. The average household income in Virginia-Highland is $104,958. Seventy-two percent of Virginia-Highland residents supported T-SPLOST.
- Black residents were also split on T-SPLOST, depending on where they lived. Atlanta’s District 3, which is a predominantly black intown district, approved the measure by 14%. Fairburn, a predominantly black suburb, rejected the measure by 14%.
Here are three things I took away from the way the vote went down:
The Beltline is Wildly Popular Intown – For City of Atlanta residents, the T-SPLOST vote was really about the Beltline, by far the largest project falling under the Atlanta jurisdiction. The question was this: were we willing to contribute about $100-$150 each for the next 10 years if that meant the Beltline would arrive sooner than planned. Over fifty-nine percent of us answered yes, and in some neighborhoods closest to the Beltline that percentage approached 80.
If the T-SPLOST was indeed a referendum on transit, intown residents answered clearly. We want more. Now.
“Metro-Atlanta” (Still) Doesn’t Exist – The hodgepodge of municipalities and unincorporated towns that make up the area demographers call Metro Atlanta is at best diverse and at worst a group of disparate, isolated communities living in close proximity.
Do some Cobb residents drive 45 minutes to reach their downtown office? Sure. But many live, work, and play in Cobb County. There are 3 million square feet of office space by Cumberland Mall.
Similarly, as a City of Atlanta resident, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited Metro OTP in the past year.
With a few exceptions (i.e. Cumberland to Arts Center transit), the T-SPLOST was really more a collection of local projects than it was regional. I struggle to see how many Cherokee County residents would have directly benefited from the Beltline. I also struggle to see how many intown residents would have directly benefited from the widening of State Road 140. Both have value for some constituents, but they largely aren’t shared resources.
In a metro area still dominated by “us” and “them” thinking, is it really surprising that many voters rejected a plan where 9 out of 10 projects only benefited “them”?
We Need More Local Spending Control – One of the most interesting things to come from the pre-vote debate was a list of demands presented jointly by the Sierra Club and the Tea Party. The two seemingly incompatible groups’ primary agreement is that more power & funding should be given to local governments.
The T-SPLOST vote has made it clear that even regionally, we don’t agree on how best to invest in transportation. Atlanta and intown DeKalb residents clearly want more transit. However, Cobb and North Fulton both rejected the T-SPLOST, which would have expanded transit north and northwest.
Showing that the 600,000+ residents of Atlanta and intown DeKalb will be completely ignored, Governor Deal stated that the T-SPLOST vote “slams the door on further expansion of our rail network anytime soon.” Instead, the T-SPLOST project Governor Deal will make a priority is a $400M rehab of the 285/400 interchange.
According to Shirley Franklin, City of Atlanta residents pay more in taxes to the state (through levies, income taxes, and gas tax) than we do locally (through sales and property taxes). Yet, Governor Deal and state agencies like GDOT do not seem to share our transportation priorities. Even after we clearly vote in support of transit projects, state leaders insist that the taxes they collect from us only fund roads.
If the Tea Party is a “no-tax-at-any-cost” party, I can’t support their mission. However, if their goal is to localize power over spending, I think they may have found some common ground with many intown residents. Atlanta wants the Beltline. In order to make that happen, we need more local control over spending, and “local” must be defined much more narrowly than a 10-county region comprised of wildly different constituents.
- Jarod Apperson is a Midtown resident