Wanted: Transparency and Honesty in Cobb County Government

Franklin Roundtable does not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. We do engage with public officials and take positions on public policy issues. Several months ago, the Franklin Roundtable Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the Mass Transit Tax in Cobb County.

Franklin Roundtable is working with a group of like-minded citizens to oppose the Mass Transit Tax that Cobb County Commissioners plan to put on the 2024 ballot.

Commisioners who are pushing the tax call it a “Mobility SPLOST,” but it is really an anti-mobility tax and will make traffic worse by spending millions of dollars on mass transit and nothing on road projects. Meanwhile, Cobb County buses run mostly empty.

The following column was published recently in the Marietta Daily Journal. You are encouraged to share it with friends, neighbors and family members who live in Cobb County. Given our limited resources, word of mouth is the best way we can communicate our goals of defeating the Mass Transit Tax and maintaining our quality of life in Cobb County.

Wanted: Transparency and Honesty in County Government

By Lance Lamberton

Lance Lamberton is the Chairman and founder of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, which is part of a grass-roots coalition that has been formed to defeat the transit tax. For more information, go to cobbtaxpayer.com.

On September 14th I attended one of Cobb Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairwoman Lisa Cupid’s so-called town hall meetings (I say “so-called” because their real purpose is to advance her re-election campaign) and asked her how much the proposed transit tax, which she supports, would cost the average household in Cobb, on an annual basis? I received no answer. I asked her again at another one of her town halls on September 25th and again received no answer. Finally, I asked the same question at a Transit open house hosted by Commissioner Jerica Richardson on September 28th, and was told by DOT Director Drew Raessler that it depends on the income of the household in question. While that is obviously true, that is not the question I asked, which was what is the average (emphasis mine) cost to the average household?

The reason this is such an important question is because before the County asks taxpayers and voters to commit to a 30-year one percent sales tax for transit, we need to have a good idea of how much it is going to cost us out of our own pockets so we can weigh and balance that cost vs. its alleged benefits. When you go into a car dealership, the cost of a new car is an essential piece of information you must have before you agree to purchase. The same is no less true when it comes to paying our taxes. The cynic in me tells me that the reason this information is not forthcoming is because it is a number which would discourage many voters from voting for the tax.

Other important questions that the County needs to answer before we vote on the tax next November, are the following:

·        What are the expectations for increased ridership once the tax is implemented, and what studies and methodology did the County utilize to come up with that number?

·        In terms of reducing traffic congestion, how many cars are expected to be taken off our roads due to this tax, what percentage of overall traffic does that represent, and how did you come by those numbers?

·        Do some of the proposed expansion of mass transit in Cobb overlap or replace existing service, and if so, what does that say about the overall efficiency of the transit system, which would go from $30 million a year in subsidies from the County’s general fund, to the collection of $200 million a year with the new tax?

·        If the transit tax passes, will the current subsidy for bus service from the general fund come to an end, resulting in a reduction in the millage rate as a consequence of these savings?

·        How many residents currently facing mobility challenges in Cobb County will find relief if the tax is passed, and what studies have you utilized to come up with that number?

·        Regarding dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes, will they necessitate the removal of traffic lanes currently used by private vehicles?

·        Considering the regressive nature of this tax, how can it be justified when most low-income residents already own cars and have little inclination to use public transit?

This is just a small sample of the many questions that the County needs to answer before we can make an informed decision. That’s what we mean when we demand transparency.

A more serious issue, and one that calls into question the entire enterprise, is the question of honesty. When the DOT Director made his case for the tax before the BOC work session in August, one of his slides claimed that under current circumstances, a senior citizen who lives in Powder Springs without access to transit or a personal vehicle, would have to pay $52 via Uber to go to and from the nearest hospital, whereas with the new tax, the same individual could get the same service for pennies on the dollar, utilizing a new microtransit service. What he failed to mention was that within his own department the County now offers a travel voucher program that pays 90% of the costs of transportation in just such a circumstance!

While obfuscation is one thing, when the County deliberately lies in order to convince you to vote yes, it makes me wonder: what else are they lying about? If and until the County commits to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, informed voters are left with no other rational alternative but to vote no.