ATLANTA - Transportation improvements and Sunday alcohol sales rank high among issues before the General Assembly in terms of public interest, but sorting through the conflicting information about them requires a special tool.
Despite the talents of Bill Gates, there's no computer program that can help. It takes a device you began using in grammar school: your thinking cap.
Three transportation options are before legislators: A.) letting local counties join in raising their region's sales tax, B.) replacing the gas tax with an added 1-cent statewide sales tax or C.) none of the above.
Many environmentalists vote for C because they contend roads exacerbate urban sprawl and increase automobile travel rather than compact cities ideal for mass transit.
If you're not in their camp and believe like the vast majority of Georgians that road construction is needed, then should it be A or B? Perhaps your view would be influenced by who is supporting which option.
The big-city chambers of commerce perennially support transportation improvements, but they've picked which funding plan they want: option A. They argue it would offer more local control.
What they're not saying is that it boils down to the old urban-rural tug-of-war.
A statewide sales tax would generate most of its money from the cities where all the people and retailers are. But the funds would be controlled by either the board of the Department of Transportation or the General Assembly and the governor, a path that assures spending would be split evenly between all parts of the state.
If a few counties pass a regional sales tax, the money would remain where it was generated and go to projects chosen by local leaders and approved by local voters. Those projects could even include passenger rail service.
Rail service, though, can gobble up lots of money, dollars that wouldn't go into road construction. So you can see at least one reason why the road contractors like the statewide approach and the rail advocates favor the regional one.
THE DEBATE ABOUT sales of alcohol on Sunday is another house of mirrors. The convenience stores are for it, but the liquor stores aren't. Convenience stores depend on impulse buying during stops for gasoline, while package stores are essentially destinations. Convenience stores already operate on Sundays; liquor stores don't, and they aren't eager to shoulder the personnel expense of doing so for sales they're already capturing in six days.
Last week, the debate was muddied further with the release of a poll by the Georgia Christian Coalition showing a majority opposed to the idea. How can that be, you ask, when two earlier surveys by Mason Dixon and InsiderAdvantage showed a majority in support?
Read the fine print. The Christian Coalition only surveyed voters in the 13 districts of the members of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which is considering the proposal.
These districts include cosmopolitan areas such as Savannah and Alpharetta but also rural crossroads such as Lyons, Reidsville and Perry. Considering that the committee stalled the legislation Wednesday, it's clear these lawmakers listen more to their own constituents than to the state at large.
That a special-interest group would employ such naked, political arm-twisting isn't as surprising as that one would issue a news release about it. Such bluntness usually remains behind closed doors.
"The results indicate political risk for lawmakers, especially Republican lawmakers, who support this bill," the coalition's political director, Adam Woodward, said in the release.
GOING BEYOND the fine print to reading between the lines, you'll notice something interesting about the survey results.
According to the phone script accompanying the news release, the canvassers began by identifying themselves as being with the Christian Coalition before asking about the Sunday sales. Considering it's like fessing up to your Sunday school teacher, it's interesting that only 61 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats said they opposed the idea.
Less-biased methodology might yield vastly different results even in those districts.
Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.