Voters statewide on July 31, will have the opportunity to vote for a transportation special-purpose, local-option sales tax that would fund improvements to roads and infrastructure.
Formally called the 2012 Transportation Referendum, the tax means voters will decide on a 1 percent regional sales tax to fund transportation improvements in their individual regions. If approved July 31, the sales tax would generate an estimated $18.67 billion over a 10-year period.
Each region in the state was asked to come up with a project list. Troup County has 11 projects on the list, including widening Hamilton Road, widening Ga. 18 to Ga. 103 in West Point, and other projects, many of which have been on engineers’ wish lists for years.
There is a punitive element to regions if the tax doesn’t pass in the region. If the tax passes, the state will fund 90 percent of projects and the local government only has to come up with a 10 percent match. If the tax doesn’t pass in the region, the match is 30 percent.
Local counties can’t “opt out” of the tax if residents in an individual county vote the tax down. For instance, Troup County is in the same region as Upson, Butts, Carroll, Coweta, Heard, Meriwether, Pike and Spalding counties. If Troup County voters said no, but the tax passed in the other counties, it still would apply to the whole region.
Proponents of the measure say the tax is necessary to modernize our infrastructure, such as deepening the Port of Savannah to accommodate larger cargo ships and improving the condition of Georgia’s roads and highways for the movement of the goods from the ships throughout the state.
“If we don’t do this, I don’t know what the state will look like 10 years from now,” said Rep. Randy Nix, who voted for the creation of the tax in the Georgia legislature.
Nix said Georgia was once a leader in the country about 30 years ago with road construction, including interstates and mass transit.
“Now, 30 years later, we’ve stopped putting into it and we’re behind,” he said. “The backup plan (if the tax fails) is to keep doing what we’re doing, and that’s not working.”
According to an article on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s website, the Foundation has long held that “Georgia’s transportation policy must be geared toward increasing mobility and limiting congestion, not ‘livability,’ ‘sustainability’ or other liabilities to congestion relief.”
Proponents, however, are focusing their “education” effort on “economic development,” “jobs” and “public safety,” not on promising that Georgians and freight will be able to travel from Point A to Point B as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
Second is the decision to use a sales tax funding mechanism. With a sales tax, unlike the motor fuel tax paid by road users and dedicated to roads and bridges, the burden is borne by all Georgians instead of allocating more of the costs to users of the various modes of transportation.
Sales tax revenue also fluctuates with the economy, a painful lesson learned in Denver during the recession and one of two major reasons for its proposed new tax, according to the Foundation.
And adding the special sales tax for transportation diminishes the chances of persuading jaded Georgians to vote for a consumption-based tax in order to implement personal income tax rate cuts (eventually eliminating it) that enhance Georgia’s competitiveness and hold far greater promise of “economic development” and “jobs.”
Third is T-SPLOST advocates’ insistence that there is no “Plan B.” Planners and policy-makers who maintain that the T-SPLOST is the end-all are exhibiting a serious lack of leadership.
What happens if, despite the millions of dollars spent on advocacy, voters reject the tax increase? True leaders would be examining the alternatives, including:
• Is a penny tax necessary, or would a portion of a penny be more realistic and give regions more flexibility with other tax changes?
• What projects would truly improve mobility, relieve congestion and save taxpayers from a headache?
• Who should make project decisions and how should they be prioritized to avoid the horse-trading that taints the current list?
• Would a user fee, such as more tolls on roads and an inflation-tied increase in the motor fuel tax be a more consistent, reliable and responsible funding mechanism?
Focusing more on the needs of transportation users – commuters, freight or casual users – would have produced a far different mix of projects than the current list of wants.
Georgians need less congestion and improved mobility. Do you want it now or do you want it right?
Is this a prudent use of tax dollars over the next 10 years or relegating Georgia to gridlock again?
It is because of these questions that we’re recommending that TSPLOST be voted down.