The drama over the TSPLOST (Transportation Investment Act of 2010) that is playing out in front of us is part of the history of Georgia politics, which isn’t complicated but is poorly understood.
In the beginning, there was vision, which begat leadership based on discipline, from which the Georgia economic miracle began. Moderate governors provided the leadership and vision that took Georgia from 3rd-world economic status to the envy of the South.
Longtime Speaker of the House Tom Murphy (1973-2002) provided the discipline and kept the excessively greedy and politically extreme elements in check. Special interests had influence in the state house but not ownership.
When Murphy and Governor Roy Barnes left the political scene, it was like “when the cat's away the mice will play.”
Governor Perdue set the example for his party by selling off valuable public property, the Oaky Woods, to his friends back home and then buying it back when the economy went south. Then he gave himself a secret retroactive tax break on the sale of his property. The message was out: Get yours and forget the voters.
Current speaker David Ralston proved that he was the lobbyist’s best friend by accepting a lobbyist’s paid trip to Europe for his family and staff. His predecessor, Glenn Richardson, proved that he was the lobbyist’s best boyfriend to at least one lobbyist.
What about transportation and the birth of the TSPLOST? Our East Cobb legislators were busy having lunch and going to ball games with their lobbyist friends from the energy sector, insurance companies, and medical industries among others. Transportation was ignored. It needed more funding and our legislators had taken an oath not to raise taxes of any kind for any reason.
So they reduced taxes for their friends and reduced services for everyone else. Education took the biggest hit and transportation was withering on the vine and in desperate need of a capital infusion and adult supervision.
Our legislators weren’t about to do their job and show some leadership for fear that one of their constituents would start singing the “tax and spend” chorus. It was easier to do nothing than wake up Grover Norquist. Year after year nothing was done. Congested metro roads eventually put pressure on our legislators to do something. Being clever fellows, they kicked the ball into the voters' laps and told us to do their job and come up with a plan and a way to pay for it.
Thus the TSPLOST was born. It wasn’t a virgin birth. It did not vote itself into existence but no one now takes credit for the legislative conception though every Cobb Republican voted for it, except for the aptly nicknamed Dr. No, the late Bobby Franklin.
For two years our legislators waited to see which way the political winds would blow before they decided which side they should be on. At the in March, there were many East Cobb legislators in attendance (a rare sight) but I don’t remember one of them stating if they were for or against the TSPLOST that they had already voted for.
When the Tea Party folks started talking loudly, making baseless claims, and being generally rude, our legislators knew which way to go or rather follow, since leadership isn’t their strong suit. They flip-flopped and came out against what they had all voted for.
The conclusion of the TSPLOST now seems clear but that will have to wait for my next blog post.