Models show the proposed penny sales tax would be a major boost to the Atlanta economy, but not everyone is convinced, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
For most metro Atlantans, this month’s vote on a transportation tax boils down to whether it will make their commutes faster. But business and economic leaders say the $7.2 billion plan really is about the region’s economic future.
They’re staking that claim on a 10-year, 10-county referendum to fund transportation projects. While there is no crystal ball to gauge its exact economic impact, a 30-page analysis offers a hint at life in metro Atlanta if the measure passes — and it has become a hot topic for both supporters and opponents of the plan.
Computer modeling suggests the penny sales tax would create thousands of jobs, put billions of dollars in metro Atlantans’ pockets, and pump billions more into the overall economy. Over the next three decades, new roads, buses and trains created from the referendum would ease congestion, boost productivity and inject $34.8 billion into the area’s economy, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission, the region’s official planning agency.
“It will literally pave the way for any new jobs, businesses and economic development projects,” said Cheri Matthews, director of zoning and transportation planning for Henry County, which has road projects in the referendum.
Opponents aren’t buying it. Few dispute the notion that the region’s traffic woes have an economic cost, or that throwing billions at new projects could create jobs.
But they say the projects on the list won’t make enough of a difference to justify the taxpayer burden.
Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy analyst at the libertarian Reason Foundation, examined the project list and questioned whether the ARC was too optimistic in predicting mass transit ridership because sometimes other agencies have done that before. Even if the ridership was on target, he believes transit’s impact on the economy will be weak — an inefficient use, he concluded, of more than half the money in the project list.
“If we’re spending this much money,” he said, “we could be getting a lot more bang for the buck.”
Independent economists say forecasting so far ahead is imprecise.
Even the ARC has no way of knowing if its predictions will become reality, a national expert who consulted on the report conceded.
Lisa Petraglia, vice president of economic research at EDRG, said the ARC used widely respected tools and took a conservative approach. “No one expects a tool to be perfect, but it gives you an indication of the direction of change if you go in one policy path versus another,” she said.
All sides acknowledge the referendum results will shape the region’s future, for good or for ill.
On any given day, an assortment of commerce crisscrosses metro Atlanta’s ribbon of highways, as do about 1.8 million workers. Time spent idling on traffic-clogged roads costs the greater Atlanta area $2.5 billion a year in lost time and fuel, and raises more ammunition for the area’s competitors, especially Charlotte and Dallas.
The average Atlanta commuter wastes about 43 hours a year idling in traffic, according to Urban Mobility, a national traffic study. But businesses, not commuters, are leading the charge for the referendum’s passage on July 31.
ARC officials acknowledge that forecasting the future is tough, but their models still try to predict the projects’ overall economic impact. They found that the tax would start creating some jobs right away as construction workers build projects. The impact on the economy would really increase after the projects were completed and in use.
According to ARC, the two biggest jobs beneficiaries of the referendum over the next three decades would be in construction, and in health care as the region’s population gets older.