What are your views on the proposed transportation tax? Any chance of it passing? Should it pass? Would it make a difference? These are just a few of the questions Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist Douglas Blackmon asked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former mayors Sam Massell, Andrew Young and Bill Campbell on Sept. 12. Held at the Atlanta History Center, the roundtable discussion focused on the politics and history of Atlanta from the 1960s to present. The evening was part of Atlanta magazine’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. Since the proposed transportation tax is such a hot topic in Atlanta and the commercial real estate industry, we are sharing a summary of the evening’s transportation discussion.
Sam Massell: I support almost anything that improves methods of transportation and will increase Atlantan’s mobility. Mobility is man’s fifth freedom. People are imprisoned in their neighborhoods if they can’t get to work, school, church, shops or any other amenity part of a normal quality of life. A regional approach to transportation is positive and one we should support.
Andrew Young: With just two counties involved, Fulton and DeKalb, the MARTA referendum only passed by 400 votes. It passed largely because the most delicate and comprehensive negotiation ever held in a city was held in this city. First, people didn’t believe the entire train system would ever happen. They believed the north/south rail line would be built to the airport, but the east/west line would never come to fruition. As a result of the skepticism, we decided to build the east/west line first. Secondly, it was decided that a one-cent sales tax was regressive so we lowered bus fare from 55 cents to 15 cents for 10 years. Thirdly, due to the sensitivity and determination of Atlanta’s business community, it was recognized you couldn’t have enough progressive and visionary people in one race to make change happen. You need all races behind a single agenda. As a result, the construction of MARTA was the first time affirmative action was attached not only to contractors and construction, but also management and operations. This story of MARTA shows us we know how to run elections. We need to run this election in the same way and make this referendum pass.
Kasim Reed: Looking back, $3.5 billion in construction happened from 1994 to 1996 to prepare for the Olympics. This resulted in $60 billion to $70 billion in economic development. Atlanta had a favorable run from 1994 to 2007 and then I was elected. Everyone acknowledges the Olympics were a significant economic driver. In London, they are spending $9 billion for the upcoming Olympic games. If we pass the regional transportation tax, it is not just about what it will do for mobility in a 10-county area. The prize is $9 billion in infrastructure investment and $900 billion being spent in a 10-county area. If we pass this referendum, we will have more economic activity in metro Atlanta than anywhere else in the U.S. I believe this is what the region needs to get out of these tough times and get 57,000 construction workers back to work.
Bill Campbell: Three things have defined Atlanta: race relations, education and transportation. We started as a railway hub and now Atlanta is an airline hub with an airport second to none in the world. I commend Mayor Reed for his vision and all of us understand the alternative to this referendum is cataclysmic. We need to move the voter education process forward. Without the referendum, not only is there the absence of hundreds of thousands of jobs, but the loss of potential commerce that comes with better access and transportation. All that being said, I leave the job to Mayor Reed’s commendable leadership to get 10 counties to do it.