In addition to the recap below, you can also see our Audio Slideshows – featuring Doug Hooker and Jim Stokes – and Photo Gallery, by clicking here.
By Matt McWilliams
The number is 20,000.
That’s the number the Livable Communities Coalition believes will determine whether this summer’s transportation sales tax referendum passes.
“We are looking for 20,000 voters that we bring in,” Livable Communities Coalition executive director Jim Stokes explained Wednesday night at the organization’s Fast Track Forward launch at Midtown’s Shout restaurant.
And here’s a better idea about who those voters will be.
As Stokes indicated to the small crowd, they will be “Young, urban voters; transit-dependent voters; smart growth voters; transit advocates and progressive voters; as well as a group we call under-voters, which are voters that generally vote in general elections but skip primary elections.”
The smart growth organization received a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation earlier in the year to ensure these people turn up July 31, when residents in the 10-county region will vote on the proposed penny sales tax, according to an article in The SaportaReport.
The organization will also be looking to the organizations that represent some of those interests to lend their support to turning out the vote.
Fast Track Forward campaign manager Howard Franklin urged the crowd to “pledge” their support by completing a pledge card that outlines the ways in which supporters can provide direct support to the campaign.
Those options include:
- Promoting the campaign via email/social media;
- Making volunteer telephone calls;
- Distributing campaign literature;
- Knocking on doors in my neighborhood;
- Wearing a TIA penny lapel pin to public events;
- Joining the Fast Track Forward list of endorsers;
- Getting out the vote on election day;
- Hosting a campaign meet and greet;
- Or, displaying education literature at my office or place of business.
That’s how much the organization seems to think is at stake in this referendum.
And Atlanta Regional Commission executive director Doug Hooker, a guest at last night’s event, argued that a positive vote in the referendum will be critical to the region’s ongoing vitality.
“This is pivotal in so many ways for this region – competitively, in terms of our quality of life and in terms of laying the foundation for the future of our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.”
Hooker asserted that the penny sales tax will be critical to not only changing the commuting habits of metro Atlanta but also in redefining the region positively for the future.
“Transit is the infrastructure that will shape communities in the 21st century,” Hooker said. “Just as the trains helped grow America as a country in the 19th century and then the automobile redefined what we were as a community in the 20th century.”
To a great degree, voters will also be on voting whether they believe transit is the right track forward.
Last October, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable concluded a 6-month process by approving a $6.14 billion final project list. That list includes $3.2 billion for new transportation investment that would significantly alter the region’s transit footprint – and perhaps attitudes towards transit.
“Fast Track Forward is all about smart transportation investments that change attitudes and change actions,” Stokes said. “Atlantans want more transportation options, and that’s what the transportation referendum will bring them.”
And Fast Track Forward is a continuation of a two-year effort by the Livable Communities Coalition to increase transit investment in metro Atlanta. Last year, the organization targeted the 21 members of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to make the case that transit should receive a significant financial commitment in the final project list.
That strategy worked, as the Roundtable unanimously approved a final project list that included a 52 percent share for transit projects.
But now the rubber hits the road and the outcome is far from certain. Even the Livable Communities Coalition acknowledges the challenge in organizing a successful referendum effort.
“We were a little worried [launching Fast Track Forward] that we would be judged by the standard of the eventual success of getting 52 percent of the project list up to transit and having 86 partners on board,” Franklin said. “And in about two weeks, we’ve been working to bring on organizations – diverse, broad coalitions – to help get this thing passed.”
The penny sales tax is not without controversy, though. Across the region, there have been various interests that oppose the referendum for one reason or another.
Take the interesting case of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. The chapter was an organizational partner for last year’s effort. But, according to a report from the AJC [updated in this article on 5/1/12], the organization has just announced its opposition to the penny sales tax referendum, citing insufficient transit funding, lack of a regional transit agency and lack of additional MARTA support.
The DeKalb County NAACP has noted its opposition, as well, taking the position that the project list does not offer enough transit for DeKalb residents.
And in Cobb County, State Rep. Ed Setzler has challenged the constitutionality of the referendum.
Fayetteville Mayor and Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable member Ken Steele lost his re-election bid last November largely for his vote on the final project list.
Even with some blood on the floor, twenty-thousand may be just enough to carry the day for the Livable Communities Coalition and their Fast Track Forward partners to change the way area residents live, work and commute.
“You have a candidate – we all have a candidate – that we want voters to be informed about,” Hooker noted. “Be fervent in your message, be passionate and be informed.
But be out there.”