Why Gwinnett County Rejected a Transit Tax Again

Coronavirus and a heavy rail project doomed a transit sales tax in Gwinnett County, Georgia, according to this election post-mortem.

2 minute read

November 13, 2020, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Gwinnett County, Georgia

Contestants in the 2014 Lawrenceville Bed Race crossed the finish lane. Transit sales taxes in the county of Gwinnett...not so much. | Blulz60 / Shutterstock

Arielle Kass and David Wickert report on the latest failure of a sales and use tax initiative to fund transit in Gwinnett County, Georgia, looking for an explanation for why voters in one of the counties that helped propel Joe Biden to the White House repeatedly votes against public transit.

"One thing is clear," according to the article: "The defeat can’t be blamed strictly on partisan politics. Democrats who won nearly every county office didn’t carry the transit vote with them. And several Republicans, including Nash, were supportive of the measure."

Kass and Wickert spoke with residents and local political officials for an explanation beyond partisan politics, some of which cited the plan for a $1.4 billion MARTA heavy rail extension from Doraville to Jimmy Carter Boulevard as a "boondoggle."

Others pointed to the mere presence of MARTA as a win for opponents of the measure, although the measure's proponents prioritized local control in the crafting of the proposed tax. "Dawkins, the chairman of the Gwinnett Transit Education Forum, said there was 'no substantive information' in a mailer he received, or on an opposition website that tied MARTA to the spread of the coronavirus. But he said those efforts found an audience," according to the article.

Another factor in the defeat, according to the article, was a general lack of knowledge of the transit sales tax on a crowded ballot. "More than 18,000 people who filled out ballots didn’t cast a vote on the referendum, and almost 5,000 people who voted in the race for county commission chair left that question blank," according to Kass and Wickert.

We've been here before with transit and Gwinnett County voters. Voters rejected a proposal for the county to join MARTA in a special election in March 2019 (despite a chorus of regret about the county's isolation among a growing regional collaboration on transit). Voters in Gwinnett County previously rejected MARTA in 1971 and 1990.

Thursday, November 12, 2020 in Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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