Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"NAACP: No rail line yields tax opposition"

NAACP: No rail line yields tax opposition
By Tom Sabulis
5:57 p.m. Monday, February 27, 2012

As if metro Atlanta leaders pushing a transportation sales tax didn’t have enough to deal with, John Evans, president of the DeKalb County NAACP, recently wrote supporters urging them to vote “no” on the referendum in July unless a fully funded rail line along I-20 is restored to the project list.

“For 30 years we’ve been paying taxes and haven’t gotten what we wanted,” Evans told me recently. “We want rail from Indian Creek to Stonecrest [Mall]. If they don’t give it to us, we’re going to encourage everyone we talk to, hear from or see to vote against the tax.”
If approved, a penny sales tax is expected to fund $6.14 billion in transportation improvements in a 10-county area. Residents of DeKalb and Fulton counties already pay a 1-cent tax for MARTA.
The approved project list includes $225 million for I-20 East corridor investments in DeKalb, which will provide commuter bus service that could eventually pave the way for rail. But it’s not enough for Evans. He met with DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis to discuss his anti-referendum stance. “I sat down and talked to him,” Evans said. “That does not mean I’m going to change my mind. We want the rail line to go to Stonecrest. That’s it. No compromises.”

With Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston indicating they are opposed to reopening the project list, T-SPLOST advocates face a mounting anti-tax movement in DeKalb and Cobb County, where leaders also challenged the project list and failed.

One strange twist: Cobb is opposed to rail plans in favor of more roadwork, while DeKalb is opposed to the lack of rail plans.
Said Evans: “Anyone who has been on the highways and streets of DeKalb knows firsthand that making the existing roads wider is not the answer. The NAACP plans to launch a public campaign with signs and leaflets this week.

“We’re going to have the ground troops moving and making people think about the tax,” Evans said. “And then you say a prayer. I know the odds are stacked against us. But I hope justice prevails, and there’s equity in the process. If not, we’re going to be working to dismantle it.”

The NAACP letter reads, in part: “It was made clear to the entire Atlanta Regional Commission that in order to get the support of South DeKalb voters, the rail line [to Stonecrest Mall] had to be on the final project list. Now, South DeKalb County voters are asked to pay an extra 1 cent for the next ten years for such a small return on a large investment. Less than 12 percent of the $6.14 billion project list will be spent in South DeKalb County. This is not good.”

It’s also not good for those who would like to see the referendum passed: They have significant opposition on the north and south sides of the city.
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