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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vote No on the T-SPLOST

In early June of this year, Governor Deal signed an executive order freezing Georgia’s gas tax at current levels, preventing an increase that would have kicked in on July 1. The tax had been set to rise .8 cents per gallon. According to the Tax Foundation (and my math), this would have amounted to an increase of about 2.7% above the current Georgia gas tax of 29.4 cents per gallon. CBS Atlanta reported Governor Deal declaring that “taxpayers in the state should not have to take on the ‘burden’ of a gas tax right now.”
Yet Governor Deal has been very supportive of the T-SPLOST initiative across the state of Georgia, which for most areas, would amount to a tax increase of at least 14% over current sales tax rates. Of course, this new tax would apply to almost every retail purchase throughout the state (except gasoline), including prescriptions and food. It would be the largest tax increase in Georgia history.

Given that the average middle-class family spends tens-of-thousands of dollars in retail purchases every year, the T-SPLOST would add an annual burden of several hundred dollars onto these families. Such an increase is much greater than the increase the additional gas tax that Governor Deal rejected would have added.  

Of all of the arguments against this tax increase (and there are plenty), one that I rarely hear is, why is the largest tax increase in Georgia history suddenly so necessary for our transportation wellbeing? I mean, how did we ever fund, build, and maintain road projects prior to T-SPLOST?! As recently as 2010, the Georgia DOT itself pointed out that Georgia has some of the best roads in the country (which PolitiFact rated as “True”).

Last year, mainstreet.com rated the best roads in the U.S. by state. To analyze a state’s road system, mainstreet used four metrics: poor-condition mileage (percentage of roads in “poor condition”), bridges, fatalities, and congestion. Georgia ranked 10th overall, receiving the top rating in poor-condition mileage. This was in spite of reports in 2009 by a state auditor and inspector general that prompted former governor Sonny Perdue to accuse the DOT of “Enron-like accounting.”

Now, speaking of the other arguments against the T-SPLOST, one of my favorites is that, though the T-SPLOST is required by law to expire after 10 years, we will, as Kyle Wingfield of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, “be paying for it, or another tax, for decades.”

As I noted in 2009, often these SPLOSTs result in projects that require spending beyond the funding that SPLOSTs provide. (In the case of the T-SPLOST, this is more accurate for some regions than for others.) Of course, this requires more tax revenue, which means more and larger taxes. When it comes to the T-SPLOST, Wingfield declares, “It’s extremely unlikely that we would spend $2.4 billion on new infrastructure and then shut it down after 10 years. In that respect, the T-SPLOST is very different from a special sales tax for education, after which voters could decide they’ve built enough new schools.”

Another sad consequence of this tax is that it pits taxpayers of one county against those in another. For example, two out of 13 counties in Region 2—Forsyth and Hall—have 58% of the voters. As a sell to Hall County voters, many have deemed Hall a “recipient county,” receiving more money than it would pay in. It is EXACTLY this kind of thinking that has led to out-of-control taxes all across America.

For decades, liberals across the U.S., at the local, state, and federal level, have been notorious for pitting one voting constituency against another. As a method of buying votes and clinging to power, generous government handouts are promised to a particular group at the expense of the ever-shrinking constituency known as taxpayers. No self-respecting conservative should stoop to such tactics.

Also, as a recent Gainesville Times letter writer has noted, and as even liberal columnist Jay Bookman of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution points out, the T-SPLOST ballot language is very misleading. The ballot reads that the proposal “provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.”

Bookman notes that in a 1974 case, Sears v. State, Georgia’s Supreme Court warned the Legislature against such actions that would “interject its own value judgments concerning the amendments into the ballot language and thus to propagandize the voters in the very voting booth, in denigration of the integrity of the ballot.”

The Court refused to declare such language illegal or unconstitutional. However, even T-SPLOST supporters should agree that such wording is nothing more than marketing language and has no place on an American ballot.

Georgians all across the state have a weak record rejecting any SPLOST. It is time to say enough. Vote NO on the T-SPLOST!

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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