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Are Relatively High Taxes Worth Beltline, MARTA, Streetscape Enhancements?

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Atlantans will be asked to approve or reject sales taxes up to 8.9 percent — that's top 10 in the country — in November

Depending on how you look at it, Atlantans will have the chance in November to invest like never before in the city’s transportation infrastructure — or to tax themselves to death.

This week, the Atlanta City Council voted almost unanimously — 13 to 1 — in favor of placing a 0.4-percent tax increase on the November ballot, as the AJC reports.

The idea is that the extra dough, collected for five years total, would fund $379 million worth of transportation projects — which is enough, supporters say, to turn the laughing stock of urban mobility into a city with the "most aggressive" improvement strategy in the country.

But here’s the rub: Voters in November will also decide if an additional half-penny should go to fund MARTA improvements. If both should pass, Atlantans will have to stomach an 8.9-percent sales tax on everything they buy.

And now for some context:

According to the Tax Foundation, that would put Atlanta in the top 10 of highest sales tax rates for large American cities — one notch ahead of New York City, in fact.

But Atlanta’s rate would still be lower than Los Angeles and New Orleans (both 9 percent), Nashville (9.25 percent), Seattle (9.6 percent), and now the reigning king of sales tax, Chicago (10.25 percent).

Four smaller cities in Alabama — including Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile — previously held the sales tax title (each at 10 percent).

If voters approve the extra 0.4 tax in November, as the AJC reports, a large portion of that funding would be channeled toward the Atlanta Beltline. More specifically, it’d go toward Beltline right-of-way acquisitions, spur trails, and lighting.

Beyond the Magical Loop, work would include everything from streetscape improvements and sidewalk repair to synchronization of traffic lights, street widening, and bike infrastructure enhancements.

If approved Nov. 8, the extra 0.4 tax would take effect in April.

The exact language will read:

"Shall an additional 0.4 percent sales tax be collected in the City of Atlanta for 5 years for the purpose of transportation improvements and congestion reduction?"

Shall it?