Rich Atlanta Towns vs. Robin Hood
In Atlanta, there’s been a fight brewing for some time. Fulton County consists of some of the poorest parts of the city, and some of the richest. For decades, the political calculus in Fulton County ensured that those poor sections had the voting power, and thus the richer sections found themselves getting eaten alive by taxes to pay for services benefitting other parts of the city, while their own infrastructure was ignored by Fulton County’s government.
The area known as Sandy Springs (pictured to the right), a very wealthy area that was an unincorporated portion of Atlanta, brought the issue to a head in 2005 when they voted to incorporate. Sick of seeing their tax dollars squandered on vote-buying programs in South Fulton, they decided they could do better on their own.
Now the issue has blown up again. If you look at the map of Fulton County, you can see that it doesn’t make any sort of geographic sense. Nor is there any sort of demographic cohesion, as the North Fulton area is full of rich towns like Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs, while South Fulton includes some of the poorest areas of the city. The North Fulton folks have history on their side as well, as they were previously known as Milton County, which was absorbed into Fulton during the Great Depression.
But while the incorporation of Sandy Springs caused a small uproar, the recent secession movement of North Fulton has created a firestorm.
A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta’s predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area’s poorest, black neighborhoods.
Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature’s Republican majority earlier this month.
Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.
“If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls,” warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: “As much as you would like to think it’s not racial, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion.”
“Blood on the walls”?
There’s a reason why it’s easy for opponents to couch this in racial terms. It’s their only hope. The truth is far more hostile to their ends. In reality, they’ve been plundering North Fulton county for decades, spending the money in South Fulton, and ignoring the concerns of North Fulton. The numbers prove it:
Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county’s population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group.
Now, for some people in North Fulton, race may play a part of it. It’s certainly true that the racial makeup of the two halves of the county are opposite. But it’s also true that when you’re getting mugged, you don’t care what race the mugger is. This is a lot more about money than it is about race. The people of North Fulton county want a responsive government, and want to benefit from the fruits of their labor. They don’t have either of those now, and the strange geography and history of Fulton County give them an easy option to get out.
Vincent Fort worries that this will hurt Atlanta’s reputation as a “progressive” city. I’d say it might help the reputation of the Atlanta metro area as a place where residents can actually opt out of Atlanta’s failing “progressive” government, and that’s something I’m always in favor of.
Hat Tip: The Pubcrawler