Tea Party groups claim victory for Atlanta transportation tax defeat

The defeat of the infrastructure proposal in Georgia followed a contentious campaign that drew attention from transportation proponents nationally. It came after a pair of recent railway approvals in California and Virginia that some transportation supporters believed signaled a reversal of fortune for infrastructure spending.

But those projects were approved by legislative bodies. Dooley noted Wednesday that the Georgia transportation tax vote failed in all 10 of the metro Atlanta counties, even the ones near the inner core of the city that contain most of the state's Democratic voters.

"We formed a coalition with the Sierra Club and the NAACP and focused on our common goals of defeating this massive tax increase," she said. "It did not concern us that each group had different reasons for opposing the tax increase."

Transportation observers in Washington said Wednesday morning that the vote in Georgia could have ramifications for future road and transit funding fights in Congress.

"People are reluctant to give more money without clear accountability by the government," Eno Center for Transportation President Joshua Schank said in a statement.

Schank said there were problems with the way the transportation proposal was prompted in Georgia. 

"The problem with the plan in Atlanta [was] the focus was on capital investment and not on tangible benefits such as improved safety," he said. "This was pitched as a sales tax and not a user fee which may have dampened support. It is also a regressive tax and puts a greater burden on lower income people." 

The recently approved $105 billion federal transportation bill lasts for only two years, so lawmakers in Congress will be back to debating transportation funding again by 2014.

The proposal to pay for infrastructure improvements in Georgia called for a vote on a predetermined list of road and transit projects in 12 multi-county regions across Georgia. 

The tax was approved in three regions, mostly in the middle and eastern parts of Georgia. But the proposal was primarily crafted for Atlanta, where supporters said more than $8 billion of the $18 billion that would have been generated would have gone if the levy had been approved across the state.

The proposal to raise sales taxes in Georgia to fund infrastructure improvements split traditional Democratic and Republican party alliances. Business groups vocally supported the proposal, while Tea Party groups rallied against the idea of raising taxes.

Democratic Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent surrogate for President Obama's reelection campaign, campaigned vigorously for the proposal, but NAACP groups in the normally reliably Democratic Atlanta area argued that the measure did not include enough spending in traditionally African-American communities.

The tax proposal will move forward now only in the three regions where it was approved, where it is scheduled to generate approximately $1.8 billion for infrastructure projects where the vote Tuesday was successful.