Metro Atlanta voters on Tuesday (July 31) soundly rejected a $7.2 billion plan that supporters said was needed to “untie” the region's gridlocked transportation system and attract a wealth of young talent.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, 63 percent of voters rejected the proposal to raise sales taxes by a penny over 10 years, the Associated Press reported early on Wednesday. Just 37 percent voted in favor. The measure also met defeat in eight of 11 other Georgia districts voting separately to raise taxes to pay for local projects.
Atlanta's Democratic mayor and Georgia's Republican governor had joined a broad group of business leaders in supporting the increase, which would have funded historic upgrades to roads, public transit, bike paths and sidewalks in the sprawling region, where traffic often crawls.
Leaders there had compiled a list of 157 projects that the new revenue would address. It would have been the first major transportation upgrade in the the 10-county region since the Jimmy Carter's presidency.
The measure's defeat sends local leaders back to the drawing board to remedy the congestion that's said to discourage young workers from settling in Atlanta.
"Given state budget constraints, significant reductions in federal funding and the long time it takes to get projects completed, the rejection of the [proposal] significantly reduces our capacity to add infrastructure in a timely fashion," said Governor Nathan Deal in a statement.
"It's heartbreaking," said Ashley Robbins, president of Citizens for Progressive Transit, one of dozens of organizations that spent some $8 million dollars pushing the proposal, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "If Atlanta's not the region that we want, the young energetic people that drove these campaigns are going to leave."
Anti-tax advocates, however, heralded the results.
"Let this send a message," Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party leader, told the Journal Constitution. "We the people, you have to earn our trust before asking for more money."
The Tea Party was part of an unlikely coalition rallying against the measure — a group that included the NAACP and Sierra Club, organizations that didn't approve of the list of proposed projects.
To close followers of the issue, the proposal's defeat was not surprising. As Stateline has reported, similar efforts had stalled in the past, and this year's vote came while Georgia's unemployment rate still hovers above the national average, making an increased tax a hard sell.
“It is on the ballot on what is probably the worst possible time to be on the ballot,” Joel McElhannon, a Republican political consultant, told Stateline in July. “We've kind of stumbled through all this.”