Senator Beach Proposes 50% MARTA Tax Hike

Every man, woman and child in Fulton county has to pay a 7% sales tax which means a hundred dollar pair of shoes really costs them $107. Of that $7 tax one dollar goes to subsidize MARTA. It may not sound like much but over the course of a year it adds up to about $265 million dollars.

Now two hundred and sixty five million dollars is a lot of money no matter how you look at it but in a county with a million residents it might be justified if the taxes were going to something everyone uses, needs or wants. Unfortunately in a county plagued by congestion only a tiny percentage of Fulton County residents use MARTA trains during rush hour.  The census charts below demonstrate only 2% of the county’s population ride MARTA trains to work.

Fulton commute chartFulton commute stats

More people work from home or even walk to work than ride MARTA trains but we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the trains. It is a perfect example of why Fulton County already has transportation issues. Politicians allocate transportation money based on politics rather than sound fiscal policy.

Which brings us  to this news story from 11 Alive News about Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach who is proposing a 50% MARTA sales tax hike to expand trains into North Fulton. While I couldn’t disagree more with Senator Beach on this issue I do appreciate his consistency. He was pushing for heavy rail in his dual role as CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and President of the North Fulton CID long before he was elected to the state legislature.

But there is absolutely no objective justification for a massive tax increase to expand the least used, least efficient, least flexible and most expensive transit option available in Fulton County. Over the past few decades billions of dollars have been spent to subsidize a rail system which serves a tiny  portion of our population while the roads that support 100% of residents have been sorely neglected. Any further diversion of transportation money to MARTA trains will only make the problem worse.

A transportation tax increase of hundreds of millions of dollars on Alpharetta residents dedicated to trains that would make traffic here worse would be unconscionable so as an elected representative for 63,000 residents I will not support this effort. Instead I will vigorously oppose any legislation which would permit a 50% MARTA tax increase and encourage my fellow elected officials in Fulton County to do the same.

 

The $100 Emission Inspection Challenge

Every year around their birthday car owners in metro Atlanta are required to have their automobile emissions inspected before they can renew their car tag. This is required by the federal government purportedly to reduce pollution in Atlanta and the last time I checked the annual cost to taxpayers was between $80 million and $100 million.

Five years ago on my birthday I was so annoyed at having to spend $25 to have an emission inspected that I decided to find out if there was any evidence the millions of dollars we pay for the inspections make any difference.

I started with Google but there was no evidence on the internet. Nothing at all on the world wide web to scientifically prove metro Georgia’s emissions inspection program reduces pollution by even .000000000000000000001%. But the federal government couldn’t possibly make people waste so much money for no reason, could it?

Next I called the office of State Senator Dan Moody who represented me at the time. His staff was very nice and helpful but they knew of no such evidence themselves and referred me to a person in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The lady at the Department of Natural Resources was also very friendly and helpful but did not have the evidence I needed either. However she did refer me to a report issued by researchers at Georgia Tech which was supposed to support the tens of millions of dollars spent on inspections.

Unfortunately the report only showed that pollution levels around Atlanta were lower than they used to be. There was no evidence at all that emissions inspections had any impact nor any quantifiable result for what hundreds of millions of dollars had accomplished. You can read an article about the report here: http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/vehicle_emissions.htm

But despite the lack of supporting evidence I didn’t want to believe the federal government was forcing Georgians to spend up to $100 million a year for no reason so I wrote to Michael O. Rodgers, Ph.D. the Principal Research Scientist and Adjunct Professor School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Georgia Institute of Technology who directed the research:

Mr. Rodgers,

I am currently doing research on the effectiveness of Georgia’s emission inspection program and came across an article which sites your research. Here is the link to the article: http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/vehicle_emissions.htm

The article explains how your research found lower emissions in Georgia but it doesn’t really explain how a cause and effect relationship was established between the emission levels and the inspection program. Is the underlying research publicly available so I can better understand how you determined the specific contribution of the emissions inspection program.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give me in proving the effectiveness of Georgia’s emission inspection process.

Jimmy Gilvin

Dr. Rodgers responded to my request and for several weeks promised to have an assistant send the evidence I requested. We even spoke on the phone, He seemed very nice but for several weeks Dr. Rodgers would assure me the information was forthcoming yet it never showed up.

I continued to follow up on the missing report until Dr. Rodgers stopped returning my calls and I realized what I now believe to be the truth: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to show hundreds of millions of dollars in Georgia emission inspection fees have reduced pollution one bit.

So here is the $100 Emission Inspection Challenge: The first person who can demonstrate there is scientifically valid evidence that the tens of millions of dollars spent on emissions inspections have reduced pollution in the metro Atlanta area by more than .000000000000000000001% will get $100.

When a person starts with the premise that annoying federal mandates are ridiculous and based on political agendas rather than facts you will rarely be wrong. Prove me wrong in this case and I will gladly fork over the cash just to know that the federal government hasn’t really wasted more than a billion dollars of our money on a charade.

“High-density Housing Reflects Dense Government Thinking”

I see that Aussies are struggling with the same phenomenom we face here in Alpharetta:

Citizens in Australia’s major cities  are becoming increasingly unhappy about what they perceive as the escalating  deterioration in their quality of life – traffic congestion, overloaded public  transport, unaffordable housing for young people, increases in the costs of  basic services and overcrowding. There is little doubt that recent election  results and unfavourable opinion polls are partly an expression of this  dissatisfaction.

‘Save Our Suburbs’ believe that  these adverse trends are the result of high-density policies that have been  imposed onto communities by state governments. Due to the misleading  misinformation that has accompanied these policies, the public may not fully  realise the connection between these policies on the one hand and deteriorating  standard of living on the other. It is only when one sweeps the propaganda veil  aside that one realises how shallow, trivial and sometimes downright deceptive  the spin has been.

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We reiterate that we have no issue  with those of us that prefer living in a high-density area or with the free  market construction of buildings to fulfill that limited demand. What we object  to, is having draconian high density policies based on demonstrably faulty  premises forced upon the 83 per cent of people that Australian research shows  prefer to live in a free-standing home.

This is especially so when the  result is maddening traffic congestion, more greenhouse gases, a creaking and  overloaded infrastructure, the young and disadvantaged unable to afford their  own home and poorer health outcomes.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And isn’t it fascinating that the same urban planning dictates we see in Georgia are being forced on suburban communities half a world away? I wonder how that could happen.

You can read the whole thing on newgeography.com here.

 

North Fulton mayors vote to trade MARTA funds for roads

This morning I noticed an article on NorthFulton.com which reports the mayors of North Fulton county have voted to sacrifice extending MARTA into their communities in exchange for more road money:

The North Fulton Municipal Association decided to try to trade $37 million in MARTA engineering funds for the restoration of road projects to be funded by the 2012 transportation-improvement sales tax.

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He said Fulton is a net donor to the tax while Cobb County and DeKalb County get a 120 percent return on their investment.

Bodker then criticized the Beltline streetcar project in Atlanta. He said it is an Atlanta project, not a regional one, but it is slated to receive $600 million in funds intended for regional transportation development. He said Atlanta is getting more than its fair share of the revenues and this money is being taken from North Fulton’s hide.

“If Atlanta wants to fund it, they have 15 percent off the top of this thing,” he said.

He said Atlanta would be paying for the project using other people’s money.

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Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos suggested heavy rail would never come to North Fulton, so the $37 million was money wasted.

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The representatives of Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek voted in favor; Wood, representing Roswell, voted against it. No representative from Mountain Park was present.

While the shift of $37 million of a $8 Billion dollar tax is a small gesture it does show that the mayors of North Fulton are finally yielding to the political realities in their communities. The strange thing is that just one week earlier the same newspaper published a story from the same reporter which lead readers to believe the mayors unanimously suppported the MARTA funds: 

Bodker said all the mayors support transit, but are concerned there is no regional transit system that all participating governments support. As far as the projects are concerned, the mayors support extending MARTA to Holcomb Bridge Road and eventually Windward Parkway. At the very least, the tax should pay for the necessary engineering, which would cost $37 million. The mayors also unanimously supported completing the proposed Clifton Corridor that would connect MARTA to Emory University, Atlanta’s largest employer, and extending MARTA up I-75 to at least Cumberland Mall.

A complete reversal of the North Fulton Municipal Association’s position in one week? How curious.

Congratulations Mr. Lowery you did it. Now it’s time to put the deck of race cards away.

The referendum on Georgia’s transportation tax increase won’t be on the ballot for more than a year but the Reverend Joseph Lowery is already playing his race card. In writing about the process surrounding the transportation project selection Mr. Lowery writes:

Originally, the committee was composed of all white men, mostly from the suburbs. This glaring imbalance prompted Rep. David Ralston, Speaker of the state House of Representatives, to intervene and request that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed be added to the executive committee.

The painful truth is that Ralston, a white Republican from the north Georgia mountains, should not have been involved in such a local issue.

It’s also telling that other committee members failed to recognize that they did not reflect the region’s diverse demographics. It certainly was obvious to many average citizens in Fulton, DeKalb or the City of Atlanta, who collectively represent 40 percent of the vote within the 10-county region.

A similar misstep was brought to light by Mayor Reed last month. During a meeting of the Regional Roundtable, Reed pointed out that a team of consultants selected to manage the $5 million referendum campaign is also exclusively composed of white men.

You can read Mr. Lowery’s column here.

Of course the appearance of the race card during the transportation tax debate isn’t the only time Mr. Lowery has used it lately. Just a few months ago the news broke that the Reverend filed a lawsuit to dissolve cities in the state of Georgia because of he believes the incorporation of the cities were racist acts. You can read about that issue here.

It is sad to see a man with such a proud history stuck in the past. I have spent nearly 5 decades living in Georgia and I remember how things used to be. I am also well aware of the role that Mr. Lowery played during the civil rights movement. I respect what he did and I am grateful that my children will never be exposed to the kind of racism Mr. Lowery fought.

But with all due respect, this is 2011 and the world is not the same as it was in the 1950’s and 60’s. Children born today are 50 years removed from the segregationist policies that Mr. Lowery fought so valiantly. The vast majority of young white people think of segregation as something that might as well have happened in the stone age.

I am 46 years old and the Civil Rights Act was passed before I was born. People born today are farther removed from institutionalized racism than I was from the Great Depression and the depression seemed like ancient history when grown ups talked about it back then.

Time moves on… so do societies. Leaders need to move on as well.

I’m not saying that racism has been wiped off the face of the Earth any more than greed, lust or avarice have. But the world of 2011 is nearly a half a century removed from the racism that the Reverend Joseph Lowery is still fighting. Someone needs to help him understand that he tarnishes his place in history by continuing to fight battles that are already won. Incorporating a city and raising the taxes on every Georgian are policies we can debate but that does not make them racist acts.

Congratulations Reverend Lowery. You did it. Racism may not be extinct but it has been vanquished. It’s time to put the deck of race cards away.

New link on Blogroll: That’s Just Peachy

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a website that consolidates news stories and blog posts that affect the state of Georgia. The website is called Thatsjustpeachy.com and it is similar to the Drudgereport but with a localized perspective.

I spend a lot of time looking for articles that directly affect my family, my community and my state and Thatsjustpeachy has proven to be an excellent tool for finding many of those articles in one place regardless of the source. As a result I am adding Thatsjustpeachy to the GA Jim blogroll for any of my interested readers.

If you’d like to keep up with what is going on in Georgia but don’t have the time to scour hundreds of websites every day I encourage you to check it out.

The federal gravy train is pulling into the station

Drudgereport.com had this headline: “USA has record $61.6 TRILLION in unfunded obligations; $534,000 per household…” The link leads to this report in USA Today. It is a powerful reminder that the United States is in a terrible financial situation and the current levels of government spending are unsustainable.

Read the whole thing but below are a few highlights:

The federal government’s financial condition deteriorated rapidly last year, far beyond the $1.5 trillion in new debt taken on to finance the budget deficit, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

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The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.

This gap between spending commitments and revenue last year equals more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product.

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The $61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations amounts to $534,000 per household. That’s more than five times what Americans have borrowed for everything else — mortgages, car loans and other debt. It reflects the challenge as the number of retirees soars over the next 20 years and seniors try to collect on those spending promises.

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The government has promised pension and health benefits worth more than $700,000 per retired civil servant. The pension fund’s key asset: federal IOUs.

The numbers in USA Today are astounding but it isn’t an isolated report. Back in May, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming released this statement which says:

The numbers don’t lie. Every day, this government borrows another $4.1 billion. We are borrowing at a rate of more than $2 million per minute. Forty cents of every dollar Washington spends is borrowed money, much of it from China. Every American child born today and tomorrow and the next day owes more than $45,000.

The federal government cannot continue to operate this way. It is more clear than ever before that one day soon our nation has to make difficult choices or foreign investors will make those decisions for us as they are doing for Greece.

So what will local governments do when the federal funds dry up? The Wall Street Journal article Threats to Town Halls Stir Voter Backlash shows that budget woes are already forcing some local governments to consider consolidation against the wishes of many constituents. Here in North Fulton we need only look back to the consolidation of Milton County with Fulton County that occurred during the last Great Depression to see what happens when a municipal government is not sufficiently prepared for the fiscal issues it can face.

The current fiscal policies of the United States federal government are unsustainable. The gravy train of federal deficit spending is nearing the end of the line.  Will Georgia and its municipalities be prepared when it does? I hope so.