Just Dandy or Downright Irresponsible?
Monday, July 23, 2012
A loose coalition of anti-tax and community activists has arisen locally to oppose T-Splost, which is the chosen acronym for a proposed new 1% sales tax dedicated to transportation. This measure is Referendum Item 1 on the July 31 Georgia primary election ballot. If passed, the sales tax rate in most counties in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) increase from 7% to 8%, for a whopping 14.3% sales tax increase.
The funds collected from the new 1% T-Splost in all of the 13 counties in the CSRA region would be dispensed in two pots. 75% of the money goes into a designated, preapproved investment list projects, called the “Constrained Investment List.” Many, if not most, of these projects in the CSRA have long been on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planned projects list to be built with motor fuel tax funds. For example, the extension of Riverwatch Parkway to Washington Road in Evans has been on the DOT planned list for a decade or more. Columbia and Richmond Counties are MPO’s (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) under the authorizing bill, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, and will be empowered to use the new T-Splost funds largely without DOT involvement.
The horse trading with the other 11 counties was thorny. As best can be told, the trade-off was to build the large investment list projects in Augusta and Columbia County early in the 10 years of the T-Splost, while the Investment list projects for the rural counties are delayed largely to the last 3 years, carrying the risk that the funds will run out. The bill says that these projects are guaranteed to be built but provides no funds.
Dandy Don Loves Taxes
The other 11 counties are willing to be in this arrangement only by virtue of the 25% “Discretionary” Funds or Cash Pot. This 25% is set based upon a combination of road miles and population which vastly favors the rural counties.
How much money is Augusta and Columbia County giving up into the Cash Pot for the rural counties? An astounding $87.6 million! Augusta gives up $63 million and Columbia County gives up $23 million in cash! Proof of this is found in the spreadsheet that the CSRA Regional Commission provided, although it required extending some of the data and calculations to divulge the truth of the matter.
Don Grantham, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation Board for the Augusta Region, and CSRA Regional Transportation Roundtable Chairman Ron Cross were extremely generous with the “cash pot” funds to be doled out from their counties!
Why aren’t these figures being publicized? ***