The following column was published in the March 10th edition of the Marietta Daily Journal
Cobb Transit Tax Rears Its Ugly Head…Again
By Lance Lamberton
Last year, attempts by Cobb’s Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairwoman Lisa Cupid to get a 30 year multi-billion dollar transit tax placed on the ballot ran into unexpected turbulence. Apparently, without attempting to get buy-in from the County’s mayors, she found out that they much preferred a five year tax to pay for transportation projects as opposed to transit, and rightly reasoned that putting both on the ballot at the same time would likely lead to defeat of one or both of the proposed sales tax increases.
Now the Chairwoman has ambiguously stated at the last BOC public meeting on February 28th that “there is support to flesh out how this can work out for all of us. And some of them [the mayors] are starting to work through what projects could look like in their cities.” Boy oh boy. Talk about bureaucratic doublespeak. It appears that there have been a lot of promises made behind closed doors to garner their support. And I submit that doing the people’s business in this manner is a disservice to the people the County is supposed to serve.
But O.K. Give the devil her due. Ms. Cupid seems bound and determined to get a 30 year multi-billion dollar transit tax over the finish line and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. To that end she has prevailed over a slim majority on the BOC to award over half a million dollars in consultant’s fees to draw up a projects list; money which undoubtedly will be used to promote and market that list.
The question then needs to be asked is: why can’t the County draw up a list on its own, without using slick, smooth talking consultants in thousand dollar suits? Surely County staff has the knowledge and talent to draw up a projects list on its own without using outside consultants. Does the County not have faith in its own capabilities, or could it be that the consultants can do a better job of selling the tax to an unsuspecting public? I think the answer to that question is self-evident.
However, regardless of the process by which the tax will be put on the ballot, what about the tax itself? Does it have merit on its own? In that regard I could provide a litany a mile long on why the 30 year multi-billion dollar tax is a really bad idea. But I’ll focus on just one for now.
One of the arguments made for the tax is that the County’s population is growing, so demand for public transit will grow accordingly. However, a disproportionate amount of that growth will come from seniors, who are least likely to use mass transit.
Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that the new tax will make it possible to have a bus stop within a half mile of every resident in the County. A half mile walk may not be a big deal for some, but for many, even most seniors, that is a real challenge. Based upon my own personal experience, when I first moved to Cobb County in 2001, I used to commute by bicycle whenever feasible by riding to a county bus stop, took the bus to the Marietta Transfer station, and then rode my bike to my final destination.
Now, thanks to a serious heart condition and severe, chronic arthritis, I can no longer use my bike. Even walking around the block poses a real challenge.
The point is, as we get older, we become more and more dependent on our own personal vehicles, especially in a suburban county like ours. So to ask a large portion of our population to underwrite a service they may never use is unfair, especially when so many seniors are on fixed incomes during these inflationary times.
Also, a more robust bus transit network will actually make traffic congestion worse. The fact remains that the there is a huge gap between how much a 30 year transit tax will cost (four to five billion dollars) vs. potential benefits.
In its totality, the need for mass transit simply does not make sense in a suburban environment, and my fear is that the real driver is to advance an urbanization agenda for the County, and in so doing, diminish the quality of life we have come to expect here in Cobb.
My bottom line is that if mass transit is so important to you, then move to a place where it makes sense. That place is not Cobb County.Lance Lamberton has lived in Cobb County since 2001 and is the founder and Chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association