ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed are making an 11th-hour push to Georgia voters to approve the transportation tax referendum on Tuesday's primary ballot.
The issue has been hard-fought in recent weeks, and Reed has been increasingly visible in the days leading up to the vote, which is expected to be close. Surrounded by dozens of lawmakers and supporters at the state Capitol on Monday, both men told the crowd that supporting the tax would create jobs, help pay for much-needed infrastructure and help the state compete against major metropolitan cities in the region.
"We're putting aside politics because we understand we didn't get here by mistake," Reed told the crowd. "I am confident that the people of the metro region are going to make the decision to be in the future business."
The proposed transportation referendum would levy a penny sales tax in 12 districts, potentially raising billions of dollars to help pay for hundreds of infrastructure projects across the state over the next decade.
Supporters say the projects would add jobs, reduce congestion around Atlanta through a mix of road and transit projects in rural and urban communities, and have bankrolled an $8 million ad campaign to push the referendum. Critics blast the plan — the first statewide referendum in Georgia history — as not only the heftiest tax proposal in state history, but as a false strategy that they say addresses neither sprawl nor smart growth. While they have spent little, their grassroots organizing could prove effective and has drawn regional and state leaders into the debate.
Deal urged citizens to vote yes on the ballot measure and tied transportation and transit to Georgia's economic future.
"This will provide Georgians with a historic opportunity to move our state forward," Deal said. "We know it's a difficult fight. But the Charlottes and the Houstons ... are probably going to be watching this vote as closely as most of us. It is about competition."
The governor, who has supported the referendum and has also spoken publicly in favor of its passage more frequently, reminded conservative voters that the issue is one of local control, and that the projects in each region were decided on by their elected officials.
"Every penny raised in your region will be spent on local projects," Deal said. "Every Georgian who votes will have a say. This is not a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's a Georgia issue."
A smaller crowd opposing the tax also held a rally at the Capitol on Monday, and several opponents gathered during the pro-tax rally holding "Vote No" signs.
Viola Davis, spokeswoman for Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter, argued that the tax would put an unfair burden on the poor and that lawmakers cannot be trusted to spend the money wisely.
"It increases taxes on food and prescriptions," Davis said. "We know the poor cannot afford this tax right now. And we've been fighting to fix MARTA for over 10 years," she said, referring to the city's public transit system.