Surprise: Penalty is ZERO for TSPLOST failure

By Ron Sifen

Most people agree that one of the reasons that the TSPLOST failed was because government lost the trust of voters.

TSPLOST supporters want to believe that all of the distrust is only because of the Ga. 400 toll debacle. They refuse to admit that voters figured out that most of the money was going to projects that would not help to reduce traffic congestion on our roads. The projects list also contributed to the increased distrust of government.

Many people were appalled that the TSPLOST contained a penalty for voting against it. Some people were intimidated by The Penalty into voting for the TSPLOST. But many voters found The Penalty to be even more reason to distrust government and the TSPLOST itself.

In reality, The Penalty only involved one pot of money, and there was no penalty for most transportation projects.

But TSPLOST proponents, including many government officials, repeatedly played The Penalty card to try to scare and manipulate voters into voting for the TSPLOST. In many cases they used misleading wording that made it sound like it would impact all future transportation projects. We were repeatedly told horror stories of the devastation that local government budgets would suffer because of The Penalty.

I kept telling people that The Penalty was tiny compared to the financial consequences of approving the projects list. It turns out that The Penalty was even smaller than I thought.

I learned a few days ago that The Penalty for every jurisdiction in the Atlanta region will be ZERO. Let me repeat that: The Penalty for every jurisdiction in the Atlanta region will be ZERO.

The Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants is an annual pot of money that is available for distribution to all jurisdictions in Georgia. It is my understanding that each jurisdiction’s allocation is based one-third on population and two-thirds on centerline miles of eligible roadway. Each jurisdiction can submit applications for amounts up to its annual allocation.

Throughout the state, the overwhelming majority of LMIG funds are used by local governments for resurfacing roads.

In the past each jurisdiction would simply submit a list of eligible projects that met the criteria for LMIG funds, and they would get the money. Now, in the nine regions that rejected the TSPLOST, each jurisdiction has to demonstrate a 30 percent match.

So, let’s figure out what this means by looking at how The Penalty will impact Cobb.

Cobb’s annual LMIG allocation is approximately $3 million. That means that in order for Cobb to get the $3 million it must show that it will spend at least $900,000 of its own money on the projects that qualify for LMIG funding. Essentially, that means that in order to get the $3 million, Cobb must now show $3.9 million of qualifying projects. But it turns out, that Cobb already spends far more than $3.9 million every year on qualifying projects.

Therefore, the effective Penalty for Cobb adds up to a total of ZERO dollars. And this is also true for every jurisdiction in the Atlanta region. The Penalty for every jurisdiction in the Atlanta region will be ZERO.

The Penalty could hurt some of the poorer counties in rural Georgia who depend on LMIG for virtually all of their resurfacing. In the Atlanta region, every jurisdiction already spends more than the 30 percent match on qualifying projects, so the amount of additional funds that they will have to pay is ZERO.

Let’s not forget other manipulations, like claiming the TSPLOST would alleviate traffic congestion, but only by defining “alleviate traffic congestion” as meaning increasing the hypothetical number of people who could reach a given point within 45 minutes. They wound up admitting that the TSPLOST projects list would have an insignificant impact on reducing commute times.

Once this became widely known, TSPLOST was dead, based on its merits (or lack thereof). The TSPLOST was sold to us based on reducing traffic congestion on our roads. Voters rejected the TSPLOST when they realized that it would not reduce traffic congestion on our roads.

Government officials put together a projects list that would not reduce traffic congestion, and then government officials pounded voters with misleading information. Now these government officials wonder why voters don’t trust them.

Voters are tired of being manipulated and mislead. And now we learn that The Penalty is ZERO.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC. All articles are posted with the author’s permission.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal August 22, 2012.

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