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T-SPLOST: How We Really Voted and Three Things I Took Away

The T-SPLOST was just as popular ITP as it was unpopular OTP.

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

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.

Trey McClure August 06, 2012 at 12:46 PM
You summed it up perfectly, we need more local control. It's like it's the State of Georgia vs City of Atlanta, and the state of Georgia is winning. The Beltline project and it's transit and intown revitalization are essential to push Atlanta towards being a more vibrant, global city.
Fourth ward August 06, 2012 at 01:16 PM
It will interesting to see what happens in those 3 regions that voted for it. The no tax crowd doesnt realize you keep kicking the can down the road. Someone eventually will have to pay for it all and it will cost more not less.
S4m August 06, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The tax needs to be lowered and the projects need to come in shorter time frames. In an unsteady economy we cannot take MORE money away from the people over the long term. If the economy were showing signs of serious recovery we could commit to 10 years of projects. But it does not show those signs. All of the projects from TSPLOST have positives and negatives. If they were to come in shorter phases the taxpayers could see something coming sooner and the benefits quicker, then the local governments could gain trust of the people. Remember, many of those who voted "no" did so because they could not believe that the leaders of these projects would spend the money correctly.
Fourth ward August 06, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Taxes are already low and we have almost no toll roads. No money= no fixing or upgrades.
Caroline Brock August 06, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I feel that people like me who live in the north suburbs really don't want the riff-raff of the city coming thru. This is why we moved out of the city is to get away from it all. They messed up North Point Mall by bringing up Marta further north years ago. I certainly don't want to pay another tax for that!
Jarod Apperson August 06, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Caroline, thanks for your comment. I think that's a perfect example of how diverse the people in this 10-county region are. Some (certainly not all) North Fulton residents like yourself would like to live in economically isolated communities. Intown, many of us see a benefit to living in more inclusive communities. The problem is that when the state lumps you and me into a single bucket, your views end up trumping the transit goals that I share with other intown residents. That's why I think "local" must be defined much more narrowly.
Nikki August 06, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I voted no on TSPLOST because I cannot get behind (more) taxes on food and medicine. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. I pay taxes, I'm fine with it. I like the benefits that come from civilized 21st Century government. But pretending TSPLOST was more than a poop sandwich with a side of trains is really putting a shine on it that didn't exist. R's don't get to appropriate a traditionally D issue, do it poorly, and then expect that every liberal within reach will meekly fall in line because it's the best scraps we can expect. I struggled, but I had to vote my conscience, which was to vote no.
Jarrett Bell August 06, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Metro Atlanta needs to act more like a unified region. However, it is very apparent that we need to take baby steps to do that since we are economically and politically diverse. It won't happen overnight but it will need to happen, as a divided house will fall. Since the rest of the metro area isn't ready to take up transit, I feel the City should continue to invest in itself. Eventually, it will show with increased population, decreased crime, and additional business. Perhaps the rest of the metro area will decide to catch up then.
Mason Hicks August 06, 2012 at 03:10 PM
@ Caroline Brock "They messed up North Point Mall by bringing up Marta further north years ago." Interesting... So these people take MARTA all the way out to North Springs, then brave the heat (or sometimes, the biting cold...) to wait for Bus to depart, (often late...) ride on this often overcrowded bus for what is at the very least, a twenty minute ride just to create mischief at North Point Mall? Doesn't sound very logical, if you ask me... I rode Bus 140 for years (by choice...) going from the Mansell Road Park & Ride, near where I bought my house to NorthSprings Station, to take the train to my office in Buckhead, and then in later years, to Midtown ... Usually, the vast majority of those on that bus with me were those wearing uniforms that identified themselves as employees at North Point Mall and surrounding business area. What you have falsely identified as those who come off MARTA and "mess up North Point Mall" are actually the local, snotty, suburban teenagers that have no parental oversight... and I assure you that whoever they are - they certainly arrive by car...
Nikki August 06, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Thank you for posting civilly what I was thinking. Not everyone who lives OTP is like that, and a lot of us dislike the OTP/ITP dichotomy as much as any intown person.
Castleberry Resident August 06, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Couldn't agree more. I attended public school in the North Point mall area and local, snotty, suburban teenager without parental oversight... might possibly be the most accurate definition I've seen to date.
Jeffrey Landers August 06, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Hey Caroline, You know it's kinda funny and sad at the same time..... Your comments are xenophobic and more importantly and disturbingly, racist, as I assume your code word for "people different from me especially those of darker skin tone" is 'riff-raff'. It's also funny that, by current demographic trends, you will soon be living with majority 'riff-raff' because whites are moving into urban neighborhoods as fast as people of color are moving to the 'burbs. Look it up. Google "Reverse White Flight". I enjoy my life as a white dude in a slightly off downtown, integrated, transit dependent neighborhood. You may not know this but if a major city fails, it's suburbs are the first to show signs of degradation.... See Detroit. You know that job you drive to in Atlanta everyday? It's here because Atlanta is hospitable to that business' needs. The minute Atlanta ceases to meet the qualifications of your company..... well you know what happens don't you? If not, Maybe Mr. Romney can clue you in.
Clay August 06, 2012 at 08:49 PM
@ Jeffery > (well said) Ouch!
Clay August 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Mason, Thank you ... so much more I would like to add, but - thank you!
Tom Tomaka August 07, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Well-stated Jarod. The TSPLOST with all its imperfections was our best shot for addressing the Region's transportation woes amidst current political economic conditions. Now where is the "Plan B" that the Tea Party and Sierra Club told us was needed? http://tomtomaka.blogspot.com/2012/08/atlanta-fit-to-be-tied.html
Fourth ward August 07, 2012 at 01:08 PM
There is no plan b if they cant raise revenue. I was reading funding for the gdot has been cut up 56 percent since 1996. People are buying this we are taxed too much line. Let it sit for another 10 yrs and they wil get to see what real taxes are. Like I said before it doesnt get cheaper to fix the longer you wait.
Bryan Farley August 07, 2012 at 01:52 PM
@ jeffrey Perfectly put!
Clicker August 07, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Caroline Brock is a plant from the left. Probably rooted by Jeffrey himself.
Clicker August 07, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Caroline Brock is a plant from the left. Probably rooted by Jeffrey himself. Don't be so gullible people.
Bryan Farley August 07, 2012 at 03:01 PM
As a supporter of MARTA, I would love to see the area unified and using one transit system, instead of having four different systems that don't operate no where near as efficient as they could using one. Cobb is very far from being on board, Gwinnett is much closer to 50/50, and Clayton is probably the best shot at expansion. But for right now (as much as I want a unified region) the only way is probably going to let local areas vote on their own local probjects. I would be so for adding another penny (even 2 extra pennies) for MARTA expansion within Fulton and Dekalb. http://www.itsmarta.com/martamatters/finance.aspx -- even during the recession MARTA still generated close to 300 million. Image if we added another 600 million to that? In 5 years that could be an additional 3 billion, not included the turn around of the economy. We could easily build the Emory line, the I-20 line, and extend the Red line to Windward with just that 5 years of money! After that we would have plenty for operations, maintainence, and reserves that in another 5 years it could be taken down to 2 cent, and work on expansions of possibly other rail lines (Beltline, I-285 north line, extention of the Blue line west, new northwest line, bus rapid transit lines on most major roads, more routes, increased frequencies of buses and trains, maybe even some 24 hour service! When Clayton is ready MARTA needs to have a plan for bus and rail service. Gwinnett will follow and so will Cobb eventually.
Clicker August 07, 2012 at 03:24 PM
And the unicorns and puppy dogs and leprechauns all lived at the top of the rainbow in blissful happiness!
Bryan Farley August 07, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Hey Clicker, Why don't you come up with a plan versus coming on here and downing everything. I'm sure you voted no and just like all of y'all don't have no plan to do anything but complain about how bad traffic is. I'm sure we hear you complain when your highway becomes a toll road or HOT lane into the city!
Clicker August 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
You call your pipe dreams a plan? The voters declined a 1% tax increase so your answer is a 2% tax increase? Get real. I did vote no on TSplost. I don't complain too much about traffic because I have chosen to live in the city close to my job - and pay a premium for it. And I have already said that if they want to add more toll roads, that's ok with me since my highway driving is minimal. I'm not paid to come up with transportation plans; obviously neither are you. But I will ultimately pay for them. So I will continue to comment on any plans that are proposed. Be they serious or not.
Bryan Farley August 07, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Clicker, this is how you can tell how uninformed you are. Even though the T-SPLOST failed it didn't fail for intown Atlanta residents who want transit and better options. The reason it failed in Fulton and Dekalb is because 1) not enough rail transit expansion, particularly along I-20 and 2) like the burbs, intown folks didn't want to pay for a road project in Cherokee. The option to live close to their job is not always in the cards for everybody. As you say, you pay a premium for it. And of course toll roads don't matter to YOU but may matter to a lot of other intown people and may matter to the company you work for. So get rid of your "it has to benefit ME only attitude," a third reason the T-SPLOST failed. Oh and by the way I'm in school for my masters in public administration with a focus on urban and transportation planning so while I don't get paid today I will in the future. And though I know my MARTA plan will never happen, I said I would love to see that, as in it would be MY dream to see that happen, not to say that is what I would put out on the table to fix traffic. And though you may not get paid to make plans you still have an idea of how you would like to see ATL traffic fixed; if not you are just voting for nothing. You could have stayed at home since you have no vision for ATL and it's traffic problem. So while you can definitely continue to comment, I guess we'll be forced to read them, whether they are dumb or completely incorrect!
Clicker August 07, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I'm well aware how the votes went on TSplost. It passed in many of the Intown areas because those ITP voters saw what a great deal it was for them; get the voters in Cherokee, Henry and Fayette to help pay for the Beltline transit and Marta extension - what a sweet deal! In other words, they were thinking primarily of themselves when they cast their votes, not of other counties. Now you suggest asking the voters of Fulton and Dekalb to tax themselves, and only themselves, a further 2% for Marta rail expansion, more buses, the Beltline and other nifty accoutrements? You really think that would fly? Good luck with your studies. Maybe you can learn how to come up with some serious proposals in the future.
Jarod Apperson August 07, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Since some of the T-SPLOST debate seems to have reflected a Georgia vs. Atlanta mentality, I looked closer at the financial relationship between the two. You may find this article interesting. http://midtown.patch.com/blog_posts/why-does-georgia-seem-to-disdain-atlanta
Caroline Brock August 07, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Well, Jeffrey...i dont feel that anything I stated was racist. I have a black husband and a mixed child and we both agree on this. We moved to the so-called country to stay out of traffic and to stay isolated from the fast paced city. So, its sad that u want to assume its "racist" when someone uses the word "riff-raff". Maybe thats how YOU view things! Hmmmmmn?
Bryan Farley August 10, 2012 at 03:21 PM
FYI, it has already been proposed to allow local communities tax themselves and have the ability to work with other local governments that they feel will all have the same interest. So Fulton and Dekalb working together to support something they already are and to actually have it funded in a way that can allow the system to thrive and grow is definitely something that could one day get some real attention. As far as the outer counties helping fund core Atlanta transit/road projects they should. ATL has been helping fund suburban and rural roads for years with no return other than the outsiders coming in and destroying intown roads. But either way we are doomed to now have projects FORCED on us (ITP or OTP) because of the short sightedness of the burbs.
Will October 14, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Ms. Brock, As well intended your statement, your leaving out the facts would leave anyone to "assume" you're racist. You never mentioned "fast paced city" or "stay out of traffic" or interracial marriage sooo next time, include the facts. If you think the facts are nobody's business then, next time, have your husband edit before you submit. Just saying!
Caroline Brock October 15, 2012 at 08:03 PM
I have an opinion as everyone does and whether or not I say things so that you better understand them isn't my problem! There is racism on both sides, im not racist but I do like living away from the traffic, road rage, and all the city holds! And my husband feels the same way! He also enjoys living with predominately white area as well! So, if you want to say we are racist so be it! We r happy as such! Gooooo ROMNEY!! lol

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