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Some doubt sales tax will pass

ATLANTA --- A survey of city officials across the state reveals half are pessimistic about next year's transportation sales tax passing.

The survey, released recently by the Georgia Municipal Association, reports just 18 percent believe passage is likely. The remaining 32 percent don't know what voters will do.

There was no region where a majority thought it would pass.

In the Augusta area 48 percent predicted failure, just 13 percent forecast success, and 39 percent didn't know.

The pessimism is growing compared to a similar survey the association conducted last year, according to association spokeswoman Amy Henderson.

"More people have moved into the unsure category from last year, when we had nearly a third predicting the tax would pass," she said. "But the metro-Atlanta city officials remain the most optimistic of the responders. Thirty percent of them felt it would pass."

Observers have always felt the tax stood its best chance in the Atlanta area where incomes are highest and voters have already supported a sales tax for rapid transit.

Civic and business leaders in Atlanta started the push for the tax. They warn that the state could suffer economically if its reputation for congested traffic discourages employers from locating there.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has already begun campaining for passage of the tax, which will be on ballots across the state next year.

The city commissioners and mayors from across Georgia told the Municipal Association the main obstacle is the public's strong, anti-tax sentiment, according to 35 percent of the respondents.

What's interesting about the Municipal Association survey is the role its members have in the tax. The legislation setting up the vote requires local officials in each of 12 regions to come up with the list of projects the tax would fund over 10 years.

The planning director can add or delete projects, which he has recently done. The hard part is deciding which projects will generate the most voter support.

Each region's committee of local officials is busy making the project selection.

Most regions came up with a starting wish list that would take twice as much money to complete as what the state economist predicts will be available to their area.

How can voters be expected to support the tax if the people in government drafting the project lists aren't enthusiastic?

It must be hard to go through the process of assembling a project list when you don't think anyone's going to support it.

Walter Jones is the bureau chief for Morris News Service. He can be reached at, (404) 589-8424 or on Twitter @MorrisNews.

Web posted on Thursday, June 23, 2011

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