Yesterday, the voters of ten Atlanta counties voted "no" in a referendum on a regional sales tax to expand both roads and public transit. The new tax was favored by the region's business establishment, and opposed by groups as varied as the Sierra Club and local Tea Party groups.
The Atlanta referendum exemplifies modern transportation politics. As taxophobia has risen, transportation issues are no longer a battle between the road lobby and the transit lobby. Instead, transportation funding issues involve a kind of three-cornered politics: the road lobby, the environmental/transit coalition, and anti-tax and anti-spending conservatives. Any two groups can usually prevail, but no group can win alone unless it peels off a few voters from one of the other two coalitions. For example, in Atlanta the transit coalition was divided; some environmentalists and transit supporters favored the new sales tax because of the transit projects that the tax would finance, while others urged a "no" vote to stop new road projects. As a result, the anti-tax lobby was able to win by splitting the pro-transit and pro-roads coalitions.
In Congress, on the other hand, the anti-spending lobby mostly lost, as Congress chose to finance transportation spending at current levels. The road lobby and the transit coalition were able to win their key priorities, although the transit coalition did lose on some issues (such as bike/pedestrian funding).
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