Let me tell you how it will be: There's one for you, 19 for me. 'Cause I'm the taxman ...
-- The Beatles
A couple of issues to consider as we celebrate our nation's independence:
One of the things I've noticed in responses to certain articles I've written lately about local taxes -- especially ones concerning the divvying up of local-option sales tax (LOST, an ominous acronym if ever there was one) collections in Lee County -- is a general misunderstanding of the various tax collections.
(Let me preface this attempted explanation by noting that until I actually started attending meetings of various governmental boards and committees and such for this newspaper, I had no earthly idea what things like SPLOST, LOST, ad valorem or even taxes actually meant. So, please believe that the following does not come from some "look how much smarter I am than you" place. It's an attempt to simplify what is actually some pretty complex concepts ... and, no, I am not smarter than you. I'm well-aware.)
As I have been able to gather -- and trust me, if I'm wrong, I'll hear from people who actually know -- the state of Georgia taxes its citizens at a 4 percent rate. That sales tax rate is applied uniformly across the state to most goods sold or purchased by Georgia businesses and individuals -- groceries are exempt, but they are subject to local taxes. There are, however, other special taxes that may be allocated individually by the citizens of Georgia's 159 counties, but only through special referenda.
The first of these -- local-option sales taxes -- originated in 1975 as a way to offer direct relief to the state's property owners. Once approved in any of Georgia's counties, government entities within that county meet every 10 years to determine how to divvy up the 1 percent tax. A county's citizens do NOT periodically vote to approve LOST funds; those funds are pretty much in the bank. And there are few limitations on how LOST funds may be spent.
Next come the more publicized SPLOST: special-purpose local-option sales taxes. These originated in Georgia in 1985 with the understanding that they would be used to fund infrastructure improvements within a governmental subdivision. SPLOST funds, also 1 percent, were originally collected for a five-year period and could be spent only on projects specifically approved by voters. That time frame has been expanded to six years, but a specific projects list must still be approved with each subsequent SPLOST vote.
Now we're up to a 6 percent tax rate, but those in our region who actually pay attention to how much money is added to their purchases know we pay taxes at a 7 percent rate. That other penny-on-the-dollar comes from what's called E-SPLOST, or special-purpose local-option education sales taxes that are earmarked solely for education projects within a specific subdivision.
All Georgians -- and, specifically for us, 14 counties in our immediate area -- will vote on July 31 whether to add another 1 percent tax to the coffers, this one a T-SPLOST or special-purpose local-option transportation sales tax. Grumbling has arisen from some groups hesitant to add another 1 percent to their sales tax bills -- one state official has even tried to turn the T-SPLOST vote into a racial issue, noting that the government would be "robbing the 'hood" by requiring everyone to contribute to the transportation projects rather than leaving that burden on the (mostly white in this region) property taxpayers.
T-SPLOST, though, is something of a double-edged sword: Regions that do not approve the special 10-year tax will see precious little in state transportation funding over the next decade and will have to pretty much pay as they go for road improvements.
Hopefully, my admittedly way-below-unofficial explanation will clear up at least some misunderstandings.
One other item to ponder as the post-Fourth election season kicks into high gear: I'm going to comment on the Affordable Care Act health care overhaul, what Republicans like to derisively call "Obamacare," but I want to admit up front that I haven't read the piece of legislation from cover to cover and have only a minimal understanding of all its provisions.
But the stuff I do know about the act, I found out by reading and researching, not by getting some email from spinmeisters who are trying to get their candidates elected.
I came upon a poll today -- and I put about as much stock in polls as I do emails from a Saudi prince looking for help in spending his $247 billion fortune, so I take it with only so many grains of sand -- that I found fascinating even with my disdain for the concept.
According to the poll, an overwhelming percentage of the people surveyed expressed approval of the main components of the Affordable Care Act, some as high as 72 percent. However, the majority of those same people polled were strongly opposed to "Obamacare" and indicated that piece of legislation was bringing our country closer to Socialism.
No doubt, most of the participants answered their questions with a robust "Baaaaaaaa ..."
Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com