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Higher taxes for a smoother commute? Metro Atlanta votes today.

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The big question is whether the tea-party-laced suburbs and exurbs will buy into a new vision for the Phoenix City – or will chalk up the plan to political tomfoolery.

If the tax fails, it’ll show that “the folks that voted it down, in the outer counties, are firmly committed to keeping Atlanta in the 1980s,” says Christopher Lineberger, a downtown development expert at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, in Washington. “I think they will be shocked that they’re going to be left behind … by competitors like Charlotte and Dallas and Houston and Phoenix, and Denver, and Salt Lake City – towns that are not exactly coastal bastions of liberalism that are lapping metro Atlanta right now. Those competitors have made the decisions to tax themselves to [provide transportation options], and if Atlanta does not choose to tax itself, well, your economic competitors will thank you.”

Pre-voting-day polls show the ballot measure headed for a narrow defeat. At the heart of the opposition is tea-party-fueled distrust of Georgia politicians, who have been known to be careless with new spigots of taxpayer cash. Tea party groups have pointed to the failure in 2010 of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, for example, to uphold a promise to shut down a toll booth on a major connector road. And when current Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the toll booth shut ahead of the Tuesday vote, the concession backfired, seen instead by many conservatives as crass political manipulation.

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