How tea party and its unlikely allies nixed Atlanta's transit tax
The tea party partnered with local Sierra Club and NAACP officials to defeat a $7.2 billion referendum aimed at unsnarling Atlanta’s traffic. Voters voted no on the referendum by a margin of 63 percent.
It was the Davids versus the Goliaths. On one side of a $7.2 billion referendum aimed at unsnarling Atlanta’s traffic stood the two most powerful men in Georgia, and an unlikely pair to boot: Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat.Skip to next paragraph
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On the other side stood the little guys: Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and Colleen Kiernan from the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. Despite seemingly dueling ideologies, they found common cause to lobby against a 1-cent-on-the-dollar tax to pay for 157 traffic-friendly projects in the metro area over 10 years.
Also on that side was local NAACP president John Evans – another unlikely partner, especially for the tea party, which some critics have seen as anti-minority and anti-immigrant.
The establishment bipartisans had a reported $8 million on hand to sell the transit package. The tea party alliance has been quoted as having $15,000, but tea party member Julianne Thompson, reached by the Monitor Wednesday, laughed that off. “We had maybe a few hundred dollars,” she says.
On Tuesday, the “Sierra Tea” nexus claimed giant-killer status: Voters shot the Transportation Investment Act down, yelling “no” by a margin of 63 percent – despite warnings from supporters of imminent urban decline and worsening traffic woes. About 670,000 metro Atlantans voted.
The transit-tax defeat came on the same day that Texas tea party favorite Ted Cruz handily beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in that state’s GOP Senate primary, suggesting to some observers that reports of the tea party’s demise have been not only hasty, but also overamplified.
The defeat of the so-called antigridlock tax “means they're players,” Bob Grafstein, a University of Georgia political science professor, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). “It reminds everybody they're around and they can defeat your grand plans.”
More specifically, the transit-tax vote hints at a newfound sense of pragmatism and subtlety that, critics have long suggested, tea party Americans have failed to exhibit on issues like the debt ceiling.
Well before the vote, tea party activists, Sierra Club officials, and the NAACP agreed to not just say no to the transit tax, but start building a “Plan B.” They even held joint press conferences ahead of Tuesday. The proponents of the plan reportedly were caught flat-footed when urban blacks and environmentalists, which should have been their natural partners, coalesced against the project.
One Plan B option the new coalition came up with would push the legislature to remove restrictions on how the city can spend current sales-tax revenues on MARTA, the existing bus and rail system in Atlanta, before building new light rail in gentrifying, in-town neighborhoods. That, the coalition argues, would make more money available for improvement and expansion, would benefit both whites and blacks in the city, and wouldn’t raise taxes – accomplishing key goals of all three groups.