We Must Fix TIA Before the Vote

Below is a Letter to the Editor written by Candidate for Cobb County Chairman, Larry Savage, in response to the Letter to the Editor by Michael Paris of Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network (MAVEN).  Mr. Paris’ Letter was published in the Marietta Daily Journal on February 19, 2012.  Here is a Link to that Letter.  The below letter is posted with Mr. Savage’s permission.  Since Mr. Savage is a Candidate, chances are the MDJ will not print his letter.

Re: Delay the TIA

I’ve just read the letter in the Sunday MDJ from Michael Paris in which he supports the TIA tax referendum scheduled for July 31. TIA, of course, is the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 and the July referendum is to authorize another 1% incremental sales tax.

I appreciate Mr. Paris’ interest in this program but I must disagree about voting on TIA in July. The current version of TIA is the result of a very ambitious effort by the state legislature to find a new way to fund transportation projects. I understand the gestation for this law was about three years before it was passed and signed into law in 2010. Unfortunately, in the real world the law has proven to be seriously flawed. The effort to delay the vote is intended to allow time to correct known flaws in the law before it goes to the voters for approval.

The law has more problems than I can catalog in this space. For Cobb voters, the most serious flaw is that the largest portion of the money is committed to a “trust me” project that is not actually defined as a specific project. It is described as maybe a “premium bus service”, or maybe something else. It could be something else depending on the outcome of the Alternatives Analysis (AA) study now being conducted for transportation improvements in the NW corridor (I-75 and U.S. 41). The language is deliberately vague so that the power brokers can make it anything they want. They would do the actual decision making AFTER the vote in July. As Fonzi would say, “Not cool”.

The big nit to pick is the simple fact that the current TIA law is probably unconstitutional under the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Constitution serves as a restraint on the legislature. The legislature cannot enact a law that is not supported by the Constitution. By example, the Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) were created in the mid-1980s with an amendment to the Constitution followed by specific laws and county resolutions. CIDs were authorized to do certain things as a special taxing authority. There are now several pages in the state Constitution pertaining to CIDs. The TIA law establishes special taxing districts that cross county boundaries but there is no place in the Constitution that allows this. That’s a big oversight.

Mr. Paris frets about the consequences of not moving forward with the TIA “as-is”. Consider the consequences of moving forward with a flawed law. Suppose the voters pass it, there would likely be court challenges given the animus over this law. If ruled unconstitutional, all is lost and it’s back to square one for the legislature. If a “friendly” court were to rule the law constitutional, or if there were no challenge, some legislators might be emboldened in the future to ignore the constitution altogether with other new laws. Weakening the Constitution cannot be seen as a good thing. If the law is defeated in the referendum, then it’s back to the project list for two years, the same setback as we see in correcting the flaws.

Do it right. Take the time to fix the known flaws and avoid the risk of a drawn out process that could predictably ruin everything. We all know the popular definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result. I would add another definition: implementing a law that is conspicuously flawed.

Memo to the legislature: roll this thing back into the shop, put it up on jackstands and get to work fixing the problems.

Larry Savage, Candidate for Chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners

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