MSPLOST – Mobility or More Gridlock?

Prepared remarks by Jim Jess

Treasurer and Chairman Emeritus, Franklin Roundtable

January 25, 2024

What is MSPLOST?

MSPLOST means “Mobility SPLOST” or Mobility Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

It really isn’t about mobility. It’s about mass transit, and it will make traffic worse.

There are three things you need to remember.

  2. Mobility SPLOST won’t solve our traffic problems.
  3. VOTE NO on anti-Mobility SPLOST.

This tax is for 30 years and will raise almost $11 billion.

If you want to research the projects that are being proposed, go to:

Scroll down on the page to: Download the project list flyer here

And download the PDF.

This takes you to a 19-page booklet, which gives an overview and some details about the Mobility SPLOST plans.

I have the list of seven major projects to be funded by this new tax:

High-capacity transit, including Bus Rapid Transit or BRT: $5.9 billion

Local, rapid & commuter service: $2.8 billion

Transit vehicles, facilities and amenities: $2 billion

Transit technology: $237 million

Transit supportive – bike/pedestrian access improvements: $500 million

Transit supportive operational improvements: $500 million

Transportation planners want to build 108 miles of transit, which is about $1 billion for every 10 miles.

If Cobb County voters vote for a full 1% sales tax for 30 years for transit only, this will financially obstruct Cobb County’s ability to fund other transportation needs. Why?

Under Georgia Law, MSPLOST funds must be spent on transit projects only, or roads leading up to transit stations.

The current regular County SPLOST is overwhelmingly dedicated to resurfacing, so there is little room for other needed major transportation projects in future County SPLOSTs.

County SPLOST approved in 2022 runs through 2028.

Will Cobb County have to propose an endless series of more and more taxes to meet its various other transportation needs?

I’ll give you a great example of a project that needs to be done but won’t.

Windy Hill Road at Cobb Parkway is the most dangerous intersection in the State of Georgia. For a number of years, the Cobb Department of Transportation has had a project on the drawing board to build through lanes—probably flyover lanes to keep through traffic moving through that intersection. It’s something that needs to be done. Needful projects like this, that will save lives, will not get a penny from the MSPLOST funds. You can’t spend that money for things like this.

So, gridlock continues. And it will get worse if the MSPLOST passes because more buses will be on the road.

The three things you need to remember are:

  2. Mobility SPLOST won’t solve our traffic problems.
  3. VOTE NO on anti-Mobility SPLOST.

Three of our commissioners want to run a Bus Rapid Transit line (BRT) down Cobb Parkway from Kennesaw down to Mableton and along

I-20. But where will they put a dedicated lane on Cobb Parkway? Which businesses—some of which are very close to the road—will allow the county to come it and take their land for a new lane? Not many. So, they will have to take an existing lane from Cobb Parkway to build BRT.

The county claims it will not take existing traffic lanes for BRT. But if the county has the land to build BRT lanes, why would it not use this land to add lanes to current roadways and help alleviate traffic congestion? The idea of a dedicated lane being used by a BRT vehicle every 15 to 30 minutes alongside bumper-to-bumper traffic defies logic and common sense.

Have you ever been on Cobb Parkway at rush hour?

The county is proposing using technology that will switch traffic signals from red to green to better facilitate a BRT vehicle’s movement through an intersection. But won’t that impede traffic that is not BRT? Again, this will make traffic worse.

Buses are not heavily used in Cobb County. They run mostly empty.

In fact, since the 1950s, ridership on mass transit across the nation has been declining. In the Atlanta Metro area, ridership on public transit declined by 8.6% between 2014 and 2019. Why would anyone want to expand a system that most of the public is abandoning? Those who use the bus system tell us that they can’t wait until they reach the point where they will not have to take the bus anymore. Why would anyone seek to expand a service that people want to stop using?

The county points to studies that indicate that the percentage of seniors in Cobb will dramatically increase from now until 2050. They say a transit tax is needed so seniors can “age in place.” Really? Isn’t this the same group that will avoid mass transit because it is just not convenient?

Regardless of how extensive your transit network is, there is always the “last mile.” They can get you to a station, but it may be a mile or more from your destination. Door-to-door service is only possible with a car or van. And anyone old enough to drive understands that. So, these people drive!

Don’t get rid of the buses. Some people need them. But, as I told the commissioners in a public meeting several months ago, it makes a lot more sense to buy some $50,000 vans than to spend a half-million dollars on a bus that can’t maneuver easily through heavy traffic. But I guess some of our commissioners want to spend lots of money on buses. I wonder who is funding their campaigns.

Commissioners want to spend $11 billion to put more buses on the road and take away a lane of traffic to further multiply congestion.

That’s why this 1% tax increase is an ANTI-MOBILITY SPLOST. It will further increase gridlock. It does not address our fundamental need for what I already told the commissioners they need to do:

  • Build more flyover lanes at key intersections.
  • Build more traffic circles where they make sense.
  • Use access roads along major thoroughfares if land can be acquired. They don’t have to run the entire length of the thoroughfare, but this could relieve congestion in some areas.
  • If you want to get people from point A to point B, buy some $50,000 vans.
  • They could even subsidize Uber or Lyft rides to get seniors or people with disabilities to the grocery, doctor appointments or to visit family.

Why aren’t they doing these things? Because the consultants and the special interests that finance their campaigns don’t want them to.

Of course, one thing they are doing that they won’t talk about is that they have a program that provides transportation to doctor appointments and hospitals. Those who need this service can contact the county now and receive this service. But we hear arguments that we need more transit so the needy can get to their doctor’s appointments? Really? Is someone being dishonest here?

When the county rolled out this proposal in August 2023, it claimed that a senior citizen living in Powder Springs who had a doctor’s appointment at the Wellstar Hospital on Austell Road would have to pay $52 for an Uber ride, because the senior citizen “currently has no access on transit,” and a transit tax expansion would overcome this obstacle. What the county did not mention is that it already offers this travel voucher program designed specifically to address this need. Someone was not being honest.

You cannot trust these people.

We have to say “No” in November 2024.

The three things you need to remember are:

  2. Mobility SPLOST won’t solve our traffic problems.
  3. VOTE NO on anti-Mobility SPLOST.

Arguably, perhaps 1% of Cobb residents, around 7,000 people, use transit. And that’s a pretty generous estimate. So, the objective should be to move those people from point A to point B.

The county has never told us how many people are using buses, so we have to guess. The county has data for the number of passenger trips per year, and in 2022, that number was 993,547, or a little more than one trip per year per resident, based on 700,00 residents. If you break down this number based on 365 days in a year, you come up with 2,722 trips per day. Let’s say most people are using the bus on weekdays, of which there are about 260 weekdays in a year. That would mean on any given weekday, there were 3,821 trips in an average day. If those trips were all made by different people, NO MORE than 3,800 people are using Cobb Community Transit on a given weekday. That gives you a sense of the numbers.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that 1% of Cobb residents decide that they will use transit. That’s 7,000 people, which we could all agree is very high number. But let’s use that number, just to be more than fair.

You see, these buses run mostly empty. We spend about $30 million each year to subsidize Cobb Community Transit. The MSPLOST will bring in more than $350 million every year. The projects proposed by the Mobility SPLOST are an extravagant waste of taxpayers’ money.

Ridership on all transit across the nation is in decline and has been for years. Exceptions might be in places like New York and Chicago, where transit goes everywhere, and city populations are dense.

Atlanta is the least densely populated city of its size in the world.

Barcelona in Spain has about the same population but a much smaller footprint. While transit may make sense in a densely populated city like Barcelona, it’s still heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. That’s true of transit systems everywhere.

So, let’s say we need to move 7,000 people in our county—but for $11 billion? That’s $1.5 million per person over 30 years, or about $52,000 per year. You could get each one of these 7,000 people a limousine and a chauffeur for 30 years.

One of the main arguments made by transit tax advocates is that it will take cars off the road, leading to less congestion and pollution. How many cars exactly? Is there any data to support this claim? To date, the county has provided no hard data to convince us that this will be the case. They just figure, if we build it, they will come.

Their assumption is purely wishful thinking. It’s part of their utopian dream. But one thing is much more certain: Jamming the roadways with more buses will cause more congestion, especially if you take away lanes of traffic on existing roadways. And it will be a less efficient use of fossil fuels. Consider a large, diesel-powered bus lumbering down the road with a few riders in it versus one or two cars with the same number of passengers. Their utopian dream makes no sense.

Because the transit tax is a regressive tax that will disproportionately impact lower income people, and given that the overwhelming majority of lower income people in the county already own cars, how can the county justify a tax increase for a service that most low-income people have little desire to use?

The answer is that they can’t. In fact, studies have shown that giving a low-income person a Toyota Prius every few years would be less expensive than providing them with mass transit.

The money raised from this tax will not go directly to MARTA, but it will go to increase and improve connectivity to MARTA. But how many people who do not now use public transit to get to jobs in areas directly served by MARTA will now decide to leave their car at home if the tax is passed? Not many.

I used to work at the Governor’s Office. When I first got the job, I researched the availability of mass transit to get me from East Cobb County to the Capitol. I found out it would take me an hour-and-a-half to reach the Capitol if I used a bus. In my car, I could usually make the drive in about 30 minutes. I didn’t have to deliberate very long about those choices.

There are about as many people who live in Cobb and work outside of Cobb as there are who live outside of Cobb and come here to work. Increasing MARTA connectivity will accomplish very little. We no longer live in a hub-and-spoke environment, where everyone in the suburbs goes downtown to work. We haven’t had that model for decades.

We need to get our public officials focused on real solutions. The best way to do that is to vote “No” on the anti-Mobility SPLOST Sales Tax Increase.

The money a majority of our commissioners want to spend is staggering. It is absolutely, fiscally irresponsible. They have a callous disregard for the taxpayers’ money.

They have ignored the voices of many, many constituents in this county. Their obsession with their urban vision for Cobb County, which has been a prosperous, low-tax suburban area, is beyond all rational comprehension. It is their tunnel vision, it’s narrowly focused and it is wrong for Cobb County. It will make traffic worse.

For that kind of money, you probably build could a tunnel to match their vision, but we don’t need that.

So, there is only one logical response to their unbridled arrogance and their obsession with transit. Vote “No” on MSPLOST in November 2024.

We don’t yet know what the ballot language will look like. The majority of our commissioners are not necessarily committed to transparency. They are keeping us in the dark because they are afraid of the opposition. They’ll let us know the details at the last possible minute. They don’t want us to build a campaign against their secret plans.

That’s why we all have to vote “No” and urge our family, friends and neighbors to vote “No” as well.

Two of our commissioners are following the lead of the commission chair, who promotes an urban vision for Cobb County. This is a Progressive vision. Talk to the Cobb Transportation Department. Their planning is focused on getting people out of their cars and into a transit bus. They do not want more people driving cars.

Progressives are always like this. They want to take away our freedom because they know better than we do. The Progressives came to power at the beginning of the 1900s. Their vision for government was to abandon representative government and entrust most of the decision-making to experts—unelected bureaucrats in government agencies. We see that at the federal level today. Whether it’s the EPA, the Federal Reserve or the Federal Communications Commission, these bureaucrats—these experts—make most of the decisions in our government.

Carl Sandburg, the great American poet one said, “An expert is a damn fool, a long way from home.”

Frank Lloyd Wright said, “An expert is someone who has stopped thinking.”

We are seeing the power of the experts here. They always know better than we do. Three of the commissioners want the transportation and transit experts to direct us on how to travel. For them, it’s best to have everyone in a public car of some kind—a bus, a train car, a bus rapid transit vehicle. That’s better than you being in your car. You won’t cause accidents, you won’t do unpredictable things with your vehicle, and it will be easy to track your movements too. These people are comfortable with Big Brother. They are Big Brother.

Driving a car is part of the fulfillment of the American Dream, but they don’t want you to follow that dream. It’s not their dream. Their dream is some kind of urban utopia where everyone lives in harmony because everyone uses public transit. The trouble with utopian dreams is that they never quite work out that way. They generally lead to some kind of regimentation—to control over people’s lives.

We don’t want their regimentation or their urban paradise. We want freedom.

Thank you.

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