T-SPLOST ‘education' campaign push starts

Backers of the Atlanta transportation referendum are betting on the ad firm that devised Las Vegas' "What happens here, stays here" campaign to work some magic as the July 31 vote nears.

Starting Friday, a privately funded advertising campaign is kicking off to “educate” metro Atlanta voters about one of the most important decisions in the region’s history. A television commercial and one for radio devised by R&R Partners are to start airing across metro stations, with Internet ads to debut next week.

"Anyone who watches TV over the next few weeks will likely see it multiple times," said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the campaign. "It’s a significant buy [of broadcasting time] meant to raise awareness and get people interested in learning more."

The ads press a sore point any metro Atlanta commuter knows: Traffic is messing with people's lives. They note that the average Atlantan spends 260 hours per year commuting, "like working another full-time job for a month and a half without pay." It calls the referendum "one possible solution" and refers the audience to the campaign's website, transformmetroatlanta.com, for more facts.

Bob Frey, a tea party activist, agrees it's an important decision -- important to defeat. He thinks traffic needs to be dealt with, but the government can't be trusted to do it right. He's not looking forward to the ads.

"I don’t trust them," he said. "You really don’t know how much you’re getting is truth and propaganda anymore."

The metro Atlanta referendum, set for July 31, will ask voters across 10 counties whether to raise a sales tax for transportation projects in those counties. Other regions in the state will have their own referendums.

Atlanta's is expected to raise $6.14 billion over 10 years for a list of projects that was drawn up by local leaders last summer and fall, as well as another $1 billion for counties and towns to spend on transportation.

The projects include interstate highway interchanges, bus and train lines, road widenings and trails, and would be built in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. Advocates argue that without it, the region will lose jobs to other cities that are investing in transportation.

The campaign for the referendum, organized by business and civic groups including the Metro Atlanta Chamber, is divided into two parts. The education portion is tax-exempt, and can give facts but cannot advocate for the referendum. Its big push will run through April.

Later, a more intense advocacy campaign will start. The campaigns won't know how much they have to spend until all donations come in, but they are expecting to put a total of about $8 million toward both parts, with the majority going to the later advocacy, Brantley said. For that, they have hired traditional political workers who are ready to lead phone banks and door-to-door campaigning.

In the meantime, some are champing at the bit to get more of the message across.

"There is a difference between education and advocacy," said Brandon Beach, president of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, where the kickoff event was held Thursday, and a member of the state Transportation Board. "But I do think we need to let people know that if you want this built, it's not gonna be built without money," he said, noting the shrinking of gas tax revenue and other funding sources for transportation.

He is one of 60 people in the campaign's "speaker's bureau" who give presentations about the referendum. When he does, he said, "I'm amazed at the amount of misinformation that's out there."

Traffic education

Part of the “education” phase of the campaign by the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network focuses on people’s problems and how the regional sales tax, which is up for a vote on July 31, is “one possible solution.”

The privately funded campaign’s polling and research found three areas in which to motivate people when it comes to transportation.

  • Jobs: "Actually jobs, jobs and jobs." The campaign stresses that the region's congestion is chasing away employers.
  • Quality of life: Congestion is costing people time with their families and causing them stress.
  • Time: "Time stuck in traffic is lost, forever."

Source: Transform Metro Atlanta