Editor’s Viewpoint: ‘Round and ’round we go, and where we stop
Local and state governments exist in a parallel universe compared to the rest of the country — or at least that might be the impression if you keep up with the news. Troubled governments or their officials caught in the gravitational pull of the newsworld start to appear ordinary, rather than the extraordinary examples they really are.
Nevertheless, the relatively uncommon government mistakes, mishaps and even bankruptcies lead some to believe that incompetent or corrupt governments are commonplace. Most of us know that isn’t true, but try telling that to my fellow Georgians who recently voted down a proposed $18 billion sales tax to fund dozens of transportation projects. Their vote also sent a message about their confidence in the governments that put that plan together.
For starters, Georgia ranks 49th in per capita spending on transportation, and that lack of funding is painfully evident in Atlanta, where traffic has reached a dangerous tipping point not only to its bedraggled drivers but to the businesses and individuals who now have reason to think twice before settling here. And, oh by the way, our economy still hasn’t recovered from the housing part of the recession, still posting some of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation.
Taking part in a complex plan with 12 voting regions, Atlanta-area residents did not approve adding a penny in sales tax for the next decade to raise $8.5 billion to be spent on 157 projects in 10 counties. While I voted for it, I had to think seriously about it because money is tight, and in the end, I would be paying for improvements I likely wouldn’t get much benefit from.
The idea that our government officials weren’t competent or honest enough to execute the plan didn’t enter my mind. Rather, I knew that our airport and Interstate system have been key to our growth and economic well-being over the past 50 years, and without improvements, job growth will sputter along for too many years to come. That scenario would only add to the problems of our local governments, many of which have been deferring projects and maintenance, all of which eventually will show up as one big ugly past-due bill.
Certainly there are other serious problems facing local and state governments that need to be addressed. For example, municipal bond issuers need to be more transparent to their customers to preserve their marketplace credibility. And those governments who have cut too deeply into the bone and are struggling to provide basic public services need to rehire some of the hundreds of thousands of people laid off, while they embrace new technology and other efficiency measures.
For my little corner of the world, I would like to see this great region regain its position as a post-graduate heaven, as it proved to be for me and my family. But, at least for the time being, our progress, like our traffic, seems to have ground to a halt.