One of the things that Mat and I really enjoy is people watching. I always loved sitting on a bench on the Ocean City, Maryland Boardwalk and watching people go by. Well, being in Georgia has presented a lot of interesting people watching. As I notice things, like the SEC team worship down here, I find myself wanting to put a label on the differences. “People down here are more <blank>” or “I don’t get that, we don’t do that where I came from.”
Lately, one of the things I’m noticing is– people sure love them some tasty referendum down here.
As one elected official recently stumped, let “the wisdom of the people speak.” My question is– is it good wisdom to put some decisions out to the people?
Lemme give you some examples. Last November, we had a referendum on a $10 car registration bump to fund trauma hospitals. The net gain was $80 million. Mind you, Georgia– the largest state east of the Mississippi– had only four such hospitals. If you’re in a bad accident in much of Georgia, the Jaws of Life may get you out of the wreck but after that, you’re on your own, homey… unless you live close enough to trauma care.
As surprised as I was that it failed, I’m sitting on a boardwalk bench wondering– why was it a ballot question in the first place? Were politicians too concerned about charging a measely $10 bucks a year?
One voter, talking about south Georgia as she explained her no-vote, said, “We already send our money to educate their kids, we don’t need to fund their health care.”
I guess she never drives down 75 to Florida or other rural parts of the state.
The biggest referendum is yet to come but already highly politicized: the transportation sales tax. This one cent sales tax bump was structured to eliminate North versus South Georgia bickering. In it, regional contiguous clusters of counties were created and forced to create local wish lists of projects. The lists were then debated, hashed and whittled down by political nominees which then get voted on by John Q. Public. The final list wasn’t even approved but last week, the DeKalb County Council members went on record in Atlanta’s major press saying they won’t support the list if DeKalb doesn’t get the money they feel it deserves. This week, the Governor called a special legislative session to, among other issues, move the transportation referendum from July to November 2012. That left one group crying foul and accusing the move as some sort of gerrymandering to encourage more people to vote yes.
So, what we have now are– the children in DeKalb (where I live and vote), I mean, the County Councilmen and women who want to take their toys, go home and hold all of our “region” hostage…and another group pre-posturing about the Governor’s allegedly flawed move. The damn vote doesn’t even happen for another 15 months.
By the way, if the vote fails, approximately $8 billion in transportation funds devoted only to the Atlanta metro area evaporate– in a state with the second lowest per-capita spending but the 11th highest in per capita use of roads.
Thank goodness the people in south Georgia who didn’t get their hospitals can’t vote against the lady who dissed’ them so publicly!
The only sure-bet winners in referendums like these? The politicians who can’t be targeted in negative campaign ads about a $10 fee, tax, whatever you want to label it– or about voting to raise taxes to pay for badly needed transportation. Oh, and Atlanta’s local television stations! They and other media will make a bundle off the commercials from probable players like the Road Stripe Painters Union. Does Haliburton build roads in America? Bet the TV stations would love someone like them to drop a dime or two into the coffers next year.
Back to where I started though: what should referendums be used for? When are they smart and when are they just a hall-pass so a legislator can skip a tough roll-call vote? Did the forefathers $10 car registrations in mind way back when? Should we start voting on Pentagon weapon systems? <clearing my throat>
Um, yes, personally, I prefer the B-3q fighter over the B-3z.
Just how far would this go? I can think of lots of good ones. Maybe a referendum about the color of garbage cans on Marietta Street? Or, maybe one about whether we provide garbage cans. Heck– if we’re gonna have referendums, do we need a legislative branch? I mean, couldn’t the wisdom of the people just vote on stuff every November? Think of all the jobs we’d create for advertising copywriters so laws could get dumbed down to be in a TV commercial! Guys like me would be in a lot more demand. This idea is seeming smarter and smarter, I might just be on to something.
As one blogger wrote several months ago, these referendums “seems more like passing the buck.” I say– pass it my way, it might help me get some freelance income!