Deconstructing the T-SPLOST (Vote Hell No!) on July 31
“Tis a rare thing for voters to be afforded the opportunity to vote YES or NO on a tax increase, yet that is exactly what will happen at the July 31 primary vote in Georgia. Voters across the state will have the chance to vote on the largest tax increase in history as the Statewide T-SPLOST faces Judgement Day. Normally the protocol for tax policy is determined by the state legislature and Governor indirectly, with unhappy voters allowed to vent their anger at the ballot box during the next election cycle. Apparently on a tax increase this large, the politicians preferred the electorate to vote it up or down directly, thereby escaping any potential wrath at the next election by employing the “You asked for it” Defense.
The T-SPLOST seeks to raise around $18 Billion statewide over the next 10 years for the stated purpose of traffic improvement and economic development. The chosen vehicle to collect this revenue is through a regressive sales tax applied to virtually all purchases in the state of Georgia with the exception of gasoline and jet fuel, an inescapable irony to many T-SPLOST detractors.
There’s a saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Said sentiment illustrated by the diverse opposition to the T-SPLOST regressive tax consisting of the Sierra Club, the Tea Party and the NAACP (NAAC-Tea?) against the pro-tax Untie Atlanta/Citizens for Transportation Mobility group. The Pro-Tax contingent is comprised of a shadowy group of businesses, special interests and politicians, including many “Conservative” Republicans. Certainly you have seen the Untie Atlanta propaganda commercials on TV, which show commuters stuck in traffic knots and rescued by the promise that help is on the way if voters will merely impose a $.01 cent sales tax on themselves on July 31. Citizens for Transportation Mobility have pledged to spend more than $8 million getting their Pro-Tax message across in metro Atlanta, not a bad investment considering the $8 Billion windfall that awaits the government and interested parties if the tax passes.
According to the Atlanta Regional Roundtable Final Report:
“The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (TIA 2010) provides a legal mechanism in which regions throughout the state have the ability to impose a 1% sales tax to fund needed transportation improvements within their region. TIA 2010 established 12 transportation districts throughout Georgia that follow state designated Regional Commission (RC) boundaries. Additionally, the law established Regional Transportation Roundtables (RTRs) consisting of elected officials from the counties and cities
within each region. An Executive Committee of five members, supplemented with three non‐voting members of the Georgia General Assembly, is also required for each Roundtable.
Each RTR was charged with approving a financially constrained Investment List of transportation projects for their district, selected from a financially unconstrained list of example projects provided by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Director of Planning. The Unconstrained Example Investment List was developed with input from local governments, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), transit operators and other transportation stakeholder agencies, following criteria established
by the Roundtable earlier in the process. The Final Investment List was required to be approved by the full Roundtable no later than October 15, 2011, based on initial recommendations made by the RTR Executive Committee.
In the summer of 2012, voters in each of the 12 regions will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on the additional 1% sales tax to fund transportation projects in their region. No counties or municipalities are permitted to be exempt from the tax, if approved by a majority of voters across the entire region. Under the provisions of TIA 2010, after the 10 year period expires, a region’s voters may extend the tax through the same process as described in this section. No extension of the sales tax is permissible without the direct approval of voters.”
The project list has undoubtedly been the most scrutinized aspect of the T-SPLOST debate, the metro Atlanta region alone lists 157 projects spread across a 10 county area. With anticipated tax revenue of at least $6.1 Billion in metro Atlanta, both sides have much at stake in the debate. Detractors of the T-SPLOST point out that more than half the $6.1 Billion is dedicated to Transit projects, which have limited ridership in Metro Atlanta. Varying estimates show MARTA ridership anywhere from 3-10% of commuters, which boosts the argument from the Anti Tax contingent that the T-SPLOST is merely a Transit bailout and thinly veiled attempt to spread the cost burden to all metro counties, not just Fulton and Dekalb County.
Let’s take a look at two of the projects.
TIA‐AR‐030: I‐285 North at SR 400 ‐ Interchange Improvements
T-SPLOST Funds $112,500,000
Federal Funds $337,500,000
Total Funding $450,000,000
Construction likely to occur in Band 3 (2020‐2022)
The I‐285 North at SR 400 interchange is one of the most congested interchanges in the entire region and southeast. Both freeways carry
large volumes of traffic and serve major employment centers. This project would reconstruct the interchange to facilitate the flow of
traffic. This project serves as a companion project to Project ID TIA‐FN‐014.
This project looks great on paper, its too bad construction isn’t even slated to begin until the year 2020, 8 years from now. Anyone with a decent memory in Atlanta knows that massive projects like this one neither come in on budget nor on schedule. Perhaps its by nefarious design then that Construction won’t begin until Band 3 of the T-SPLOST proposal and will serve as a glowing advertisement for re-implementing a second round of taxes once the first T-SPLOST 10 year window terminates. The city of Denver, Colorado passed a version of a regional T-SPLOST tax in 2004, which initially was set at 0.4% sales tax. The project list was comprised solely of mass transit projects and came in more than $2 Billion OVER budget, year to date and city officials have asked voters to allow them to DOUBLE the tax for the duration of the 12 year initial period. The I-285/400 Interchange improvements also depends on the Federal government for 75% of its funding ($337,500,000), a rather rosy projection considering the United States will likely sport a National debt in excess of $20 TRILLION by the year 2020. Something tells me funding for highway projects in metro Atlanta will take a backseat to “paying interest to service the federal debt.”
TIA‐AR‐037 MARTA North Heavy Rail Line Extension to SR 140
T-SPLOST Funds $37,000,000
Total Funding $37,000,000
Project development activities likely to occur in Band 1 (2013‐2015)
This project funds the corridor planning, engineering, environmental review and assessment, improved interim bus services, and possible
limited right‐of‐way acquisition for the extension of the MARTA North (Red) Line. The build out project extends the MARTA North (Red)
Line from its existing terminus, located at North Springs station in the city of Sandy Springs, to a new terminus station at SR 140 (Holcomb
Bridge Road) in Roswell. The project runs parallel to the existing SR 400 expressway, including a new station at Northridge Road.
Addressing heavy travel demand in the SR 400 corridor, the community north of the North Springs station is currently underserved by
transit. The project also provides a foundation for future rail extensions northward that serve additional activity centers in North Fulton
County. When opened, the project is forecast to support an average 11,800 weekday boardings (in 2025).
I call this the “Eminent Domain” project, as it seeks to spend $37 million on “limited right of way acquisition” for a future MARTA heavy rail station extending from the North Springs Station to Holcomb Bridge Road. The use of Eminent Domain violates one of the profound tenets of Conservative thought, the right to own private property. The Eminent Domain path considered in this study cuts a swath through many suburban neighborhoods and would oust many homeowners from their homes. This project is slated to happen between 2013-2015 which means properties will be acquired at depressed values, thereby enhancing the plight on private property owners. The end goal of this $37 million seizure of private property is to MAYBE have a MARTA station running by the year 2025, which is two years after the scope of the initial T-SPLOST. I don’t trust government economic predictions on a day to day basis, much less on a decade basis.
I talked to many people during the course of writing this article and asked a couple for their feedback.
James Touchton, Government Affairs and Policy person at the Council for Quality Growth had this to say:
” We have been given the opportunity to vote on a vision, a chance to change the trajectory of Atlanta for the next century. Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the 1996 Olympic Games are just two examples of game-changers for Atlanta. Compromise has become a part of vernacular that has been lost in today’s America and this vote is an opportunity to bring it back into the American lexicon. Even Ronald Reagan said, in a speech about the 1982 Transportation Bill, “So, what we’re proposing is to add the equivalent of five cents per gallon to the existing Federal highway user fee, the gas tax.” That hasn’t been increased for the last 23 years. The cost to the average motorist will be small, but the benefit to our transportation system will be immense. The program will also stimulate 170,000 jobs, not in make-work projects but in real, worthwhile work in the hard-hit construction industries, and an additional 150,000 jobs in related industries. It will improve safety on our highways and will make truck transportation more efficient and productive for years to come.”
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown:
“State and regional leaders have taken people’s angst for traffic congestion and turned it into a special interest boondoggle list rife with pet projects that will have very little impact on commuting traffic woes. The TSPLOST has turned into a federal government-style stimulus program where the people in the building, transportation and engineering industries reap a huge windfall while the rest of us will continue to sit in traffic day-after-day.”
Generally speaking, I support the concept of a flat, or regressive tax, as it means everyone pays into the system, hookers, drug dealers, illegals, tourists, etc. In this case though, the tax is simply a transfer of wealth from the citizens to the GDOT/Local Governments to the tune of $18 Billion statewide. The $18 Billion would have far greater impact if spent by individuals instead of government transportation agencies, which have a shoddy record of performance in budgetary manners. The average family would pay thousands of dollars in additional taxes over the next 10 years for a plan that does little to relieve traffic congestion and sends more than half the revenues in the metro Atlanta region to dubious, under used transit projects. The pro-tax folks claim the T-SPLOST will create 150k+ jobs, a figure that should cause major skepticism after the failure of Barack Obama’s 2009 $870 Billion stimulus No such thing as a shovel ready job, right? If the T-SPLOST passes, the city of Atlanta would be burdened with a 9% sales tax, (nope, not part of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan) and would limit the competitiveness of many small businesses in the area. Imagine buying a car and paying a 9% sales tax. No thanks, I think I’ll buy one outside the metro area. The desperately urgent tactics displayed by the Pro-Tax contingent fall on deaf ears when one realizes most of the heavy lifting traffic projects aren’t even slated to BEGIN until the year 2020, 8 long years from now and based on projections that have no chance of being accurate. Despite Governor Nathan Deal’s announcement that the GA 400 tolls would finally be removed sometime in the Year 2013, taxpayer faith in government has dwindled and there is very little citizen oversight on this massive new revenue stream for the state of Georgia. From Traffic Truth: “Citizen Oversight: The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor would appoint unelected officials to these positions that have no authority to take action against fraud, waste, or spending. Additionally, both the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor are actively advocating for the tax passage.”
On July 31, I encourage you to join me in voting HELL NO to the largest tax increase in state history.
Gregory E. Williams
July 20, 2012