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T-SPLOST or not, Georgians will pay

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I started with nothin', now I've got less. ... Live now, pay later.

-- Foghat

None of us among this country's unwashed truly understands the complexities of government, its layered structure and intentionally confusing language cleverly designed to keep "outsiders" like us in the dark.

Even so, I was surprised to hear the twisted logic used by a usually well-informed businessman recently in expressing his disdain for the state's pending special-purpose local-option transportation sales tax -- the so-called T-SPLOST.

"I will vote against T-SPLOST," this gentleman declared. "I'm tired of having to pay taxes to support the freeloaders who never pay their share."

Now I understand all too well this gentleman's frustration. As a property owner, he's paying greater and greater sums to ensure government-provided services that are utilized by a large segment of the population that owns no property and, thus, is subject to a proportionately smaller tax burden.

There's that old saying about bleeding a turnip for only so long.

But opposition to T-SPLOST -- and, yes, it is an additional 1 percent tax on the citizens of Georgia; no politico-speak mumbo-jumbo spin job can change that -- based on a desire not to support others who are not paying their fair share of taxes is actually contradictory. The special-purpose taxes, in fact, require everyone in a community or region -- including those who visit -- to take on an equal share of the tax burden.

Some local black elected officials are even expressing their opposition to T-SPLOST by calling it a "Robinhood tax," proclaiming that the government is "robbing from the 'hood" in asking citizens there to pay the same 1 percent on goods and services that others -- i.e. those people not from the 'hood -- pay.

As a matter of fact, the special-purpose local-option sales taxes utilized in Georgia now for infrastructure and education projects approved by voters are as fair a tax -- I know, oxymoron -- as citizens can pay. If a community has a large influx of visitors or shoppers, such as Albany in Southwest Georgia, a large portion of its SPLOST-funded improvements is paid by people just passing through.

I also am a bit confused by people who say they're going to vote against T-SPLOST "to show those clowns up in Atlanta that we've had enough." And God bless you for your anti-tax revolutionary stance. Yet, I can't help but wonder if a rejection of T-SPLOST in Southwest Georgia is not going to end up being one of those cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face kind of things.

Consider that any of the state's regions that don't approve T-SPLOST will pay a greater percentage (30 percent compared to 10 percent) of matching funds for Local Investment Maintenance Grant-funded projects thereafter and that any projects being considered for steadily dwindling federal or state funds will come under considerably greater scrutiny in regions that reject the special tax.

But perhaps most ominous of all in this whole puzzle are the words of Lee County Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander, who's been involved in the transportation wars in this region for decades. Alexander, a staunch supporter of the T-SPLOST measure, warns that the July 31 vote may be Southwest and indeed all of rural Georgia's one shot at getting transportation funding that will impact its roads directly.

"There is a provision that is supposed to allow any region that votes against T-SPLOST an opportunity to bring it to its voters again in two years," Alexander said. "But it would have to go back to the legislative body in Atlanta for consideration, and I can't see them giving a second chance for at least four years, if they can stomach going through that process at all.

"But what concerns me is that, without the T-SPLOST funding, the state at some point is going to go into crisis mode. When that happens, you can bet that there will be some kind of statewide tax. And you know when that happens that all of the money collected is going to go to Atlanta. For us in rural Georgia, I'm afraid (the July 31 vote) is going to be our one and only chance."

I will not go so far as to encourage local voters to levy another 1 percent tax on themselves; that's a matter for each individual to consider. But I will ask that voters think beyond the "no new taxes" rhetoric that some groups are throwing out to confuse the public.

Because if our region turns down this 1 percent tax that everyone pays into equally, there will be another tax coming in the very near future. And, rest assured, that tax will come with much sharper teeth and take a much much bigger bite.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

stredr357 2 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Fletcher, here is my take on this deal. The property owners and those who pay income taxes already share the burden of being over-taxed in this region by all areas of government. Some say that we should make those that don't own property and don't pay income tax pay their fair share, but the truth is that their money comes from entitlement programs which comes from the government, which comes from the already over burdened tax payers. So it seems to me we the taxpayers will be hit again and made to pay a higher pecentage of tax than those on entitlement programs. Whats fair about that?

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Trustbuster 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't agree with Mr. Fletcher's analysis about the T-SPLOST vote. It is still a tax increase no matter how you look at the picture. I favor limited govt. and less taxes. According to the T-SPLOST proponents numerous exemptions are allowed under this tax. If the tax contains almost 300 exemptions how can that be fair to everybody? Sales taxes are inherently regressive mainly impacting seniors and those people who are low income. Also the tax supporters claim that the projects will create 200,000 jobs in the state and possibly 7,000 in this region. The tax will destroy private sector jobs by taking away money and redirecting the funds to govt. sponsored contractor jobs that are temporary. Those jobs that might be created by the T-SPLOST vote would not be counted as job-years says an economist interviewed by the AJC.

Finally the proponents claim that each region which approves the tax will have an accountability commission appointed by the governor, lt. governor and house speaker. The 5 person commission will have to hire staff people to oversee the supervision of funds within the district. This means more govt. employees and a growing bureaucracy.

I am doubtful that local governments in our area will increase property taxes to pay for these projects. None of the legislators that I talked with would be willing to go back to Atlanta in January and raise taxes either. That is a pointless argument. I have already educated myself about this issue and will vote NO!

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Engineer 2 years, 5 months ago

How about that report from the Rockafeller Foundation and PEW Center on the States that puts GA in the top 13 states on transportation, mostly because of our efforts on the TSPLOST. (Remember when you brought it up a month ago, but apparently never took the time to read it, I know I do. http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/news/publications/measuring-transportation-investments )

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Trustbuster 2 years, 5 months ago

If you are referring to the PEW Center it was another article.

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Engineer 2 years, 5 months ago

then please do link it, because that is the only one I've been able to find referencing your comments.

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neillherring 2 years, 5 months ago

The fact that the TSlpost sales tax applies to groceries but not to motor fuel is very troubling, particularly in light of the fact that large financial supporters of the referenda are also large users of motor fuel, and beneficiaries of passage.

Georgia's Constitution is very clear about transportation funding: it is to come from motor fuel taxes. TSplost side-steps that mandate with a general sales tax that exempts motor fuel!

Lobbyists for greedy big businessmen who want others to play their way wrote this thing and it needs to be rejected.

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J.D._Sumner 2 years, 5 months ago

Maybe its because Georgians already pay a gas tax and not having an exemption for motor fuel would be tantamount to double taxation? Not sure...just a thought though...

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Good reply. That is exactly the way I see it and plus what the legislators did and the Secretary of State did to try and push this tax through is illegal and there is a lawsuit looming in Atlanta.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Also it is taxation without representation. Something our forefathers fought hard against.

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waltspecht 2 years, 5 months ago

I just do not have the faith in Government that you apparently do. I know what is stated as to distribution of the funds, but I also know there are ways the Leeches will get their blood suckers into any pool of money and divert it to their own nurishment. Watching the way things are presented, and how they actually work over many years, I have come not to trust anything that sounds too good. I look at the promises made for the use of other Local Options Sales Taxes, and then see how they were used, makes me question the whole concept.

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J.D._Sumner 2 years, 5 months ago

Walt, I can understand the distrust of government, but historically, SPLOST has been the most accountable of all government funding mechanisms. A. Voters have to approve a project list before collections start. B. If money is diverted from the projects, state law requires it be justified or governments risk having the whole kit and kaboodle yanked away. I know both the city and county have posted on their website the SPLOST list and what's been funded out of each fund and what hasn't. It's much tougher for general fund or property-tax based budgets to follow where the money goes.

Just a thought...

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Actually, the local govt. diverts some of that money to other projects we didn't vote on. This is why we still have the old sewer system and that was one of the main purposes of the SPLOST tax here in Albany to begin with. The city was suppose to upgrade it so flooding is prevented in certain areas. Now, the city has been sued or threatened to be sued by some residents because of the sewer system backing up into people's homes. My neighborhood is a prime example of the sewer backing up into homes. I experienced it myself many times and it is absolutely disgusting having to take a shower in a tub that was flooded by sewer. Thank goodness for Kevin Hogancamp, (former Asst. City Manager at the time of my problems), he helped me get the city to replace part of the sewer near my residence at the time but others in my neighborhood weren't so lucky and some had to make major renovations because it backed up so bad.

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thedeepend 2 years, 5 months ago

Reading this, one could only assume Carlton doesn't understand the roads we have were paid for without need of T-SPLOST. However, the funding mechanism in place which served this purpose until now is unpopular with vote seekers. So instead of doing what is responsible, politicians are giving taxpayers enough rope to hang themselves as they walk away blame-free with another unnecessary tax to blow with cronies within the chamber of commerce. Yeah, that's a great idea (if you plan to beg for votes next election cycle).

I love the fact the Herald doesn't attend transportation committee meetings where this is objectively discussed, yet will base its opinion solely upon the tax's loudest proponents. No governmental bias there at all....

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm voting NO for these reasons:
1. T-SPLOST is not replacing any tax - it is an additional tax. The revenue source that formerly paid for roads is still being paid for by us.
2. Our politicians do not spend our money wisely now - why give them more?
3. SPLOSTs were initially sold to us as a temporary one-time project-oriented type of tax. That has not proved to be the case. Nip this new one in the bud.

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J.D._Sumner 2 years, 5 months ago

SPLOSTs have to be re-approved by the electorate each time. The last one was approved overwhelmingly. If they had wanted to, the electorate could've cut off the spigot...

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MRM 2 years, 5 months ago

Once a sales tax is in place, it is almost always impossible to defeat it Mr. Sumner. That is why this tax must be defeated.

The idea that the state legislators can divide the state into regions to get a tax passed is unconstitutional in my opinion. It completely eliminates county sovereignty. What happens if 10 of the 14 counties in the SWGA region vote the tax down but it passed because the higher population counties like Dougherty and Lee approve it??? That is BY DEFINITION taxation without representation.

Transportation expenditures should be paid by gasoline/diesel fuel taxes and user fees like licenses and fines.....not by a general sales tax. That imposes an expense on the poor who are less able or willing to drive and therefore do not benefit from the tax at all, but they still have to pay it every time they go to the grocery store.

And this tax will allow current budgeted transportation funds to be diverted to other uses. The grand poobas at the capital can say otherwise, but as with the lottery funds and other tax funds, it has happened and will again.

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

Yeah J.D., I'm aware, but as a practical matter they become the tax equivalents of "incumbents". We are made to feel that if we don't continue an existing SPLOST, then we will be punished with a tax increase somewhere else to make up the difference. Once voted in - they are tougher to get rid of. Originially, we were told this was funding for a special purpose, not on-going funding for RQ, ACRI, etc. Bureaucrats get the political cover of "the voters voted on it". Works so good, they let us have a say-so on ESPLOST and TSPLOST. Seeing a pattern yet?

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MRM 2 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Fletcher, here are some valid reasons to oppose TSPLOST:

1) TSPLOST is a 14.3% increase in the sales tax. That is asking a lot of people who are hurting from the current government sponsored recession.

2) TSPLOST takes your money and the decisions on how best to spend it out of your hands and gives it to the Georgia Department Of Transportation (GDOT) who has a record of financial mismanagement and whose financial bookkeeping was once compared by Sonny Perdue to Enron's.

3) TSPLOST will benefit the SWGA Region least of the 12 regions and the Atlanta Region the most.

4) TSPLOST is a general tax rather than a user based tax - those who pay the tax are disproportionately higher than those who benefit from the tax. The poorest citizens will be hurt by this tax the most.

5) TSPLOST creates more paperwork and accounting for the retail businesses who collect it.

6) SWGA does not need new roads, we need jobs.

7) TSPLOST is taxation without representation – a five member unelected board has final approval on projects.

8) TSPLOST will allow the state to divert current highway funds to other uses.

9) TSPLOST will cost more jobs than it will create.

10) TSPLOST is a brand new tax and as citizens we are TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY!

Now why don't you print those reasons instead of spouting hyperbole like: "I'm tired of having to pay taxes to support the freeloaders who never pay their share." I know of no one who is opposed to TSPLOST because of jargon like that. Let's have an honest debate about the pros and cons of the tax. It is time for the state legislators to realize that just like us ordinary citizens they have to tighten the belt of the state's spending right now.

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J.D._Sumner 2 years, 5 months ago

Just a few observations. 1. you're right. 2. Not true. It takes your money and puts it towards a list of projects created by a roundtable of local elected officials. That, by its very definition is local control. If you don't like the list, vote out the people who created it or don't vote for the referendum. That's a valid reason not to support it, however saying that the DOT has ultimate control is a little unfair. 3. Can you quantify that please? The way I see it, $530 million will come into this region (at least according to predictions). And our region, unlike Atlanta, doesn't have to put roughly half of its funding into mass transit. So I think we're better off than they are, especially since they have massive gridlock issues that we don't. 4. Unless you walk through woods on your way to work, you're a user of Georgia roads, highways and bridges, hence this is a user-based tax. Sales taxes by their very nature are user (consumer) based taxes. 5. Not sure how this will play out for retailers, although if they're submitting reciepts for 7 percent sales taxes now, I don't see too much added work for submitting them for 8 percent. 6. You're kidding right? Infrastructure development is one of several key areas needed for economic development. Ask any economic development expert. If you don't have decent roads, bridges, airports, transit other and infrastructure like sewers, businesses don't relocate or expand. And you'd have to imagine that at least a few jobs would be created by those doing to the work. At the very least its keeping someone in business, which is a net gain in my book. 7. A five-member board appointed by the governor and others has oversight, not final approval. The projects were selected by a group of elected officials from the region and there were public hearings and meetings where people could've had input. 8. Only if the funding is replaced by TSPLOST funds. 9. Explain this one. I don't quite get it. 10. True.

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Shinedownfan 2 years, 5 months ago

Number 7 ... are these board members paid? Is this a paid position, paid with the T-splost monies collected? Will they in turn have to hire staff to oversee the spending of the funds... also paid with the tax? This will be defeating the purpose, dontchathink?

Number 5 ... I dread having to pay the extra money every month, but I will be collecting more, so there should be no big deal UNLESS we have trouble collecting the amounts due from our customers with accounts. In these troubled times, that could happen.

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Nous_Defions 2 years, 5 months ago

J.D., #3 We did not elect those officials to this Regional Trans. Board, they were appointed. # 4, TSPOST will tax consumer items, an additional fuel tax would tax USERS! #7, It has been reported elsewhere that Lowndes County will collect approx. 252,204,085 million dollars in the 10 years of this tax, but 162,696,553 million dollars will be spent on improvements in that county, Lowndes will generate 37.59 % of the revenue and only gets 24.25% of the improvements, so where does the rest of the $ go? Sounds like "redistribution of wealth" to me. Why doesn't the Herald research this issue and give us the facts, instead of it's pro-government slant? You already reported that Gov. Deal is making a TSPLOST enemies list http://www.walb.com/story/18818455/lowndes-republicans-upset-about-t-splost

This one by the AJC implies some shady dealings

http://www.ajc.com/news/transportation-referendum/public-in-the-dark-1459227.html

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MRM 2 years, 5 months ago

1) Glad we agree on two of the 10.

2) The GDOT will administer the funds. Yes a private panel approves the projects, the the funding goes through the GDOT and the DOT's financial accountability in the past has been abysmal. That is a fact!

3) MOST of the 14 counties in the SWGA district are rural and are net losers with TSPLOST.

4) Transportation is perfectly designed to be paid by fuel taxes, licenses, fees, and fines. The costs should be paid by the users and those who use the roads the most should pay the majority of the cost - fuel taxes does that BEST of all taxing mechanisms. A sales tax disproportional hurts those who use the roads the least. A person who walks on a road does not care if it is widened or not. But his cost to buy groceries goes up because of this tax.

5) ANY added bookkeeping burden cost retail businesses. The tax collected has to be segregated from other taxes and accounted for separately.

6) No I am not kidding. This tax just takes money out of one individual's pocket and puts it another individual's pocket. Yes there might be some road construction jobs created, but there will be some retail jobs lost as people have less net money to buy things. It is at best a wash jobs wise. New private jobs are created by genuine supply and demand,not from artificial government created demand.

7) The projects listed for SWGA cannot all be approved. Someone will have to cut many of them. The FINAL approval is by the unelected board.

8) That is my point. The general funds for transportation CAN BE REPLACED by TSPLOST funds. It is a legislative diversion trick to balance budgets without cutting projects. That alone shows that TSPLOST is a dishonest tax..

9) See #6 above. It is a wash at best in job creation..

10) Well if you believe like me that we are taxed enough already, why are you defending this tax?

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

T-SPLOST get LOST!!! Please join my Facebook group called "Georgians Who Are Against T-SPLOST.

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Jacob 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm all for it, as long as there an equal and exact cut in property and/or income taxes. Heck, let's make a five percent tax. That would seem fair to me.

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MRM 2 years, 5 months ago

There is NO provision for a cut in property or income taxes Jacob. It is an NET INCREASE in taxes to the citizen. And if the legislators thought they could get a statewide sales tax to pass, they would have put THAT on the ballot. Obviously they know it wouldn't. This is a fools tax - one designed to look promising, because it all supposedly goes to the region. You may not be old enough to remember that first SPLOST was passed as property tax releif. Once passed, that property tax relief lasted only two years. The money was quickly diverted to other uses. This one will go the same route..

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DoctorDorite 2 years, 5 months ago

I recently bought my wife a new Toyota Highlander and paid the tag tax/fee of slightly over $400,(this does'nt include sales tax) and in 41 other states the tag tax/fee is under $100. Now will the members of the press promoting this tax convince me that I'm under taxed in Georgia and my home county ?? I don't think you can.

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LoneCycler 2 years, 5 months ago

I will vote to approve the T-SPLOST. Yes, it's a new tax, but we can pay now or pay a lot more later. These Tea Party folks seem to think it might be possible to completely eliminate government corruption regarding use of tax money. While I applaud their efforts in general they are tilting at windmills sometimes. I have an intimate up close experience with some of the proposed improvements having ridden my road bike over them, and a lot of work on local roads is needed. Somebody will pay for this; we might as well enlist the dollars from visitors pockets too. The only dissappointment is that arguably the most dangerous intersection in Albany, North Westover and Nottingham Way, is not on the list for improvement. This is on the ride between Cycle World and Breakaway Cycles, and it's quite dangerous. What's up with that?

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