DeKalb residents and others in the metro Atlanta area voted to save their pennies instead of paying a one-cent sales tax for transportation.
At stake in the vote was $6.14 billion of regional transportation projects selected by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable which represented Clayton, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties and the city of Atlanta.
As of The Champion’s press time, the vote regionally was 36 percent for the tax and 64 against it. In DeKalb County the tax was failing 52 percent to 48 percent.
“The people spoke and they did not whisper,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson, who campaigned against the tax. “We won’t be taken for granted anymore.”
Johnson said both sides of the transportation tax issue need to sit down and come up with another plan.
Johnson’s opposition to the tax stemmed from a proposed rail to Stonecrest Mall not being on the final project list.
“I just heard the sentiment of south DeKalb about being left out,” Johnson said.
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who served as a member of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, said the failure of the tax is a “major blow to the region.”
“The transportation referendum, if it had passed, would have been a significant stimulus to the economic vitality and growth within the region,” Ellis said. “But the problem doesn’t go away. We’re going to have to step back, make sure we understand why the voters voted the way they did and work toward a plan B.”
The projects on the final list were whittled down from wish lists from each city and county in the Atlanta region after being submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation and the regional roundtable.
In 2010, Georgia’s legislature enacted the Transportation Investment Act, which provided for regional referendums throughout the state. In the referendum, voters in the various regions had to decide whether to support a penny-sales tax to fund various transportation projects, including transit, roadway, safety, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
For DeKalb County, there was $1.1 billion to be divided between 18 proposed projects including a $700 million Clifton Corridor MARTA rail that would run from Lindbergh Center to Emory University and a $225 million I-20 corridor park-and-ride bus system that would have eventually been converted to high-capacity transit stations.
Other proposed projects included interchange improvements at I-85 North at I-285, a bridge replacement on Clifton Road and pedestrian improvement on Buford Highway.
Much of the opposition to the proposed tax in DeKalb came from south DeKalb residents who unsuccessfully campaigned for an I-20 rail system that would have connected Indian Creek MARTA station with Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia.
For more than 30 years, residents of DeKalb, Fulton and Atlanta, have paid a penny-sales tax to support MARTA. Opponents say that DeKalb County was promised the I-20 rail three decades ago.
Viola Davis, of the Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter Group, said the failure is “truly a blessing for the taxpayers and voters. This shows that coalitions can overpower money.”
Proponents of the sales tax said that there is no alternative plan to the tax.
“It means we all go back to the drawing board,” said Leonardo McClarty, president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. “They’re going to have to look at other alternatives.”
McClarty said he knew the vote “was going to be tough in metro Atlanta.”
McClarty said “there was a lot of hope among many of the proponents that this would turn out more favorably.”
The failure of the tax means the metro Atlanta area is “not ready to truly act as a region,” he said.
“Trying to get a Cherokee County and a DeKalb County to come together is truly like oil and water,” McClarty said.