The regional sales tax: an innovative approach to transportation finance in the Atlanta region
Wall, Amanda Inez
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The Georgia Transportation Investment Act of 2010 divided Georgia into twelve special tax district regions granting each region the ability to vote for a region specific 1% sales tax for a ten year period. Drawing new boundaries, the legislation provided the state the ability to bypass the usual county and city politics and decision making which typically drives transportation investment in Georgia. In nine of the twelve regions, the sales tax referendum was defeated. Despite hopeful polling numbers, the Atlanta region overwhelmingly rejected the sales tax referendum with only 38% in favor. This thesis presents a case study of the Atlanta region, identified as the most diverse and complex region created by the legislation. Geographic voter results for the Atlanta region suggest a division between urban and suburban interests. The geographic results show a radial trend of increased no votes as the distance from the center of the city increased. Not one county of the 10-County region voted in favor of the referendum. Notably, the city of Atlanta passed the referendum 58 to 42 percent. Beginning over a year before until five months following the public referendum, 48 interviews were conducted. Participants included a mix of legislators with various levels of involvement in the drafting of the legislation, high level officials of multiple transportation agencies, local politicians involved in the project selection process, representatives from the business community, members of the campaign, and prominent members of the opposition. Those interviewed identified a number of contributing factors to the failure of the referendum. However, the consensus among those interviewed was that not one of the factors caused the failure of the referendum. Instead, the referendum was significantly influenced by overarching national issues such as the economy, the anti-tax movement, the looming presidential election, and distrust with all levels of government. These were the driving force in a "perfect storm" of factors which led to the ultimate failure of the referendum on July 31, 2012. This thesis provides lessons learned and strategies for the Atlanta region to implement during a future attempt. In addition, recommendations are provided for other regions in the nation looking to attempt similar referenda. Currently, the Atlanta region remains in a "transportation crisis." Given political barriers, the next attempt is likely a decade away. Until a new transportation funding source is acquired, the Atlanta region will continue toward a path of limited funding and increased congestion, losing businesses and talent to regions that are addressing their transportation issues.