June 18, 2012
Between now and July 31, you'll read a lot about the Transportation Sales Tax referendum in the Albany Herald.
This weekend, the Herald ran an informative piece from former Senator Michael Meyer Von Bremen about the T-SPLOST bill itself and how it was formed.
We're currently soliciting input from locals who are pushing the T-SPLOST and those who are opposed to the measure to come into the office for a special feature that will, we hope, ultimately help you as voters decide how you feel on the ballot measure when you go vote.
And Monday, a story from the Associated Press reminded me of a concern I've had about T-SPLOST from the beginning.
While the majority of the funding that would be generated from the extra one-percent sales tax will go towards regional projects like the widening of State Road 133 and the Westover Boulevard Overpass extension into Lee County, 25 percent of the total will go as discretionary funding to local governments.
Experts will tell you that this 25 percent will be divided amongst the cities and counties in the region based on a formula that uses miles of roadways and population.
But one thing that the experts can't tell us is how that money will be spent.
There is no requirement in the law that I've seen that requires local governments to say before the referendum how they intend to spend their discretionary portion of the pie. By the very definition the money is "discretionary," meaning it can be spent on just about anything that vaguely resembles a transportation project.
Bruce Maples, Albany City Engineer and the city's go-to guy when it comes to T-Splost, says that he and other city department heads are in the midst of compiling a preliminary list that will be presented to City Manager James Taylor.
"Right now we're looking at things that have been in the works for the last 25-30 years but that we've never had the funding to do as possible projects," Maples said. "And we're working with public works to look at streets that will need resurfacing over the next 10 years."
For those of us who are a bit skeptical of how local officials have chosen to use the government's spending authority, there is some small solace in the fact that the process in which the projects will have to be developed will have to follow the same process that they use to purchase equipment or resurface roads now; meaning it will have to be done in public with a public vote.
That means that you, the public, will have to come out and voice your opinion yay or nay on how the government spends your sales tax dollars. I'll get you the information, but ultimately, the "discretion" is really up to you.