Transit advocates look to future votes to rebound from Atlanta rejection

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"That’s why Atlanta’s ballot measure was so important, and it’s why a similar vote scheduled for November in Tennessee is as well," he said of the upcoming Memphis vote. "Funding for the Memphis Area Transit Authority is on the line; a one-cent-a-gallon local gas tax would raise up to $6 million a year to maintain the public mass transit network in addition to providing a reliable revenue stream for MATA."  

The proposal to increase state sales taxes in the metro Atlanta area to pay for transportation projects was similarly projected to generate about $8 billion. However, the measure was defeated by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, losing 63 to 37 percent.

Madrecki said Thursday that it was important for transportation supporters to learn from the Atlanta rejection.

"Much has been written about the reasons that ballot measure failed," he continued. "But as we acknowledge the impact of transportation investments on local economies and the development of great neighborhoods, it’s important to pull back and examine how specific votes do more than just create new roads or add transit service."

Prior to defeat of the T-SPLOST proposal in Atlanta, transportation supporters often noted that referendums to increase sales tax to pay for road and transit had about a 77 percent approval percentage in the last 10 years.

But Madrecki said Thursday that it was hard to convince voters to vote for new taxes to pay for transportation taxes, even as he pointed to a vote similar to the unsuccessful effort in Atlanta coming up in Memphis.

However, he said it was worth if voters can be convinced to cast ballots for investments in transportation.

"In a time of fiscal constraint, new taxes are a difficult sell for policymakers and local leaders," Madrecki said. "But the payoff to communities can be huge. That’s the question facing voters today, and it sets up dozens of interesting debates about the merit of transportation enhancements and other smart growth investments. What’s it worth and will these measures separate winners and losers in a 21st century economy?"

Madrecki said it was important for transportation supporters to resume winning votes like the recent election in Atlanta because defeats have a "very real, rippling effect on future growth."