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By Willoughby Mariano August 6, 2012

Deal claim he fulfilled toll promise needs major repairs

Gov. Nathan Deal is trying to turn the Ga. 400 toll from a symbol of broken promises to one of promises kept.

Commuters fumed in 2010 when state officials reneged on a pledge to end the 50-cent toll by the following year. Instead, they extended it to 2020. Some blame this move for sealing the fate of the failed bid to raise taxes to fund a transportation overhaul for metro Atlanta.

Deal, then vying for the governor’s seat, seized on the issue. He promised voters he’d tear down the toll by the end of 2011.

The tollbooths still stand, but now Deal’s recent announcement that the toll will come down during his term has him crowing that he kept his campaign pledge.

"Fulfilling his promise to commuters, Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that he will have the state pay off its bond debt on Dec. 1, 2013, and move rapidly after that to remove the Ga. 400 toll by the end of that year," Deal’s office announced in a news release July 19.

This perplexed us. Late last year, Deal earned a Promise Broken on our Deal-O-Meter for failing to meet the 2011 deadline.

Did we miss something? We put Deal’s claim that he fulfilled his promise on the Truth-O-Meter.

First, let’s review Deal’s original pledge.

On June 22, 2010, his campaign issued a news release that said "he'll move quickly as governor to bring down the Georgia 400 toll before the end of 2011."
"The state has collected more than enough money to pay for the bonds for the highway," Deal said in the statement. "We are now using the tolls of Georgia 400 drivers to pay for other road projects. That’s not fair to the commuters in north Fulton and Forsyth counties. They’ve carried more than their fair share."

Deal’s resolve waned in the coming months.

By the time Deal took office in January 2011, the State Road and Tollway Authority Board had already sold $40 million in bonds based on the revenue expected from the newly extended toll.

Ending the toll "would be an abrogation of a contract," the governor’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, told PolitiFact Georgia in 2011.

Robinson did not return repeated requests for comment on this article.

The feud over the Ga. 400 toll became a flash point during the run-up to Tuesday’s unsuccessful referendum on a regional penny-per-dollar sales tax to overhaul metro Atlanta’s traffic-snarled transportation system.

Deal backed the tax, which would have expired in 10 years or less.

But tax foes said that the Ga. 400 flap was proof that the government couldn’t be trusted with transportation dollars.

Polls showed the tax measure flagging in the polls. Twelve days before the election, Deal announced that the state would pay off the $40 million in new bonds by Dec. 1, 2013. The tollbooths would come down soon afterward.

"When the Ga. 400 toll went up, the state of Georgia promised commuters that it wasn’t forever," his recent news release said. "If we don’t keep that promise, we lose the faith of the people."

Deal’s gambit did little for the transportation tax. More than 60 percent of voters in the Atlanta region rejected it Tuesday, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Did Deal really fulfill his promise to commuters on Ga. 400?

When Deal promised to bring down the toll, he gave himself a deadline: "before the end of 2011," as a campaign news release stated.

This new plan misses the original deadline by a full two years. That means Ga. 400 motorists will still be paying tolls much longer than they were originally promised.

Deal failed to meet a date of his own making. But he has come up with a plan to eliminate the tolls, albeit on a deadline not addressed in his original campaign promise.

Deal earns a Mostly False on this one.

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