Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Bookman/Wingfield: Does the ATL need a regional government?

As I note in the video below, I recently went digging through some Bureau of Economic Analysis data, trying to see how we're doing here in the 28-county metro Atlanta region compared to our regional competitors.

The answer, based on data through 2013, was "not well".


I just took a look, and jobs data tell the same story. By October 2010, Nashville had recovered all of the jobs that it lost in the recession, and it has since added another 77,000 jobs, an increase of 9.5 percent. Dallas-Fort Worth has added 429,000 jobs since its pre-recession peak, an increase of 14 percent. Charlotte recovered all of its lost jobs four years ago, and is now 135,000 ahead of its pre-recession job total, an increase of 13 percent. Denver recovered all of its lost jobs three years ago, and since then has added another 110,000.

As of April, the Atlanta metro region was still 5,000 jobs short of its peak in April of 2008.

There are a lot of possible explanations, but I do know this much. Each of those regions has a much better capability to address regional issues such as transportation, either through dominant cities or counties or through a regional governance mechanism, such as the Middle Tennessee Regional Transportation Authority. In Denver, it's the Regional Transportation District, with a publicly elected board of directors that provides services such as bus rides throughout an eight-county area directly to the Colorado Rockies downtown stadium.

Metro Atlanta does not have that capability. The central city of Atlanta has less than 8 percent of the population in the Atlanta metropolitan statistical area, which comprises 28 counties and almost 150 cities. MARTA is confined to the two inner-most counties (although Clayton County recently joined as well), and is pointedly excluded from serving the new home of the Braves. And of course, new cities seem to be popping up faster than Republican presidential candidates, with the notable difference that the cities will be permanent. We are a lot better at dividing ourselves than uniting ourselves.

Metro Atlanta also lacks a state government energized to seriously address regional urban issues. That's just not their mindset. To the contrary, much of state government appears to treat the metro region with suspicion bordering on animosity, which explains why MARTA is the only major transit system in the country without regular state financial support.

Look at Gov. Nathan Deal's new appointment as state transportation planning director. Former state Rep. Jay Roberts is a competent guy who led the House Transportation Committee. He comes to the job from Ocilla, a small town in south Georgia with a population of 4,100, and his occupation is listed as farmer and cotton gin manager. That's who is now in charge of planning major transportation projects for the Atlanta metro region, the ninth largest in the country.

Again, that's not meant personally. It's just that if we took that role seriously, we would have a trained, experienced professional as state transportation planning director, someone with expertise in the transportation challenges of a major urban region. Instead we have a politician, because that is how the job and function is perceived. Its emphasis is on serving political interests, not on professional transportation planning.

So here's our discussion:

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.