ACJ – Cobb sidesteps transit issue for now
During last Tuesday’s Cobb County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board sidestepped a contentious issue.
Left unaddressed, it threatened to torpedo passage of another Special-Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) which most of the commissioners fervently want. It concerned funding for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, a half billion-dollar boondoggle that would create a fixed-guideway bus route from Kennesaw to the MARTA Arts Center station in midtown Atlanta.
Universally unpopular, the board removed earmarks of $72.5 million for “intersection improvements” (code word for BRT) along its planned route.
They reallocated tens of millions of those funds for gold-plated sidewalks, some as wide as 10 feet, and specified that $60 million that would go to a “Local Match for Federal/State Funding” could not be used for BRT. They left it open-ended as to where and how it could be used.
But herein lies the rub. The election for a six-year SPLOST will be held in November for implementation in January 2016 — which would lock in SPLOST funding until the year 2022.
In the intervening eight years, future boards will have enormous discretion to add or discard projects at will. Thus, once voters open the Pandora’s Box by passing this year’s SPLOST, they open the door to future mischief by urban planners who have not given up on their 20-year dream of building a mass transit system through the heart of Cobb County.
A better alternative, which would drive a silver stake through the BRT and any future iterations of it, would be for voters to defeat this upcoming SPLOST outright. However, our opposition goes deeper than that.
Since state law requires that the SPLOST be levied at a full one percent, many projects are placed on the project list regardless of need.
As an alternative, I asked that the Board hold off on putting this SPLOST on the ballot, and give the state legislature a chance to pass a fractional SPLOST in the next legislative session. The board can then come back with a SPLOST which is more aligned with needs versus wants.
As for which projects in this SPLOST are unwarranted, space does not permit me to list them all, even the most egregious and expensive ones. But rest assured, as long as SPLOSTs are levied at the full one percent, wasteful spending will be the order of the day.
However, Cobb County taxpayers can put an end to this practice once and for all, and set a precedent for counties throughout Georgia, by telling its board of commissioners that unless we are given the option of a fractional SPLOST, we will not pass it. We are tired of being forced to buy what we don’t need just to get that which we do.
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