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Fact or Fiction: Chamber of Commerce Distributes T-SPLOST Information

Responses in RED and labeled “Truth” have been added by Nolen Cox to correct the fallacies and false claims by the PR campaign of the Georgia Transportation Alliance. Comments by Nolen Cox did not appear in the original Fact or Fiction article in the newspaper.
Fact or Fiction: Chamber of Commerce distributes TSPLOST information

Author: From Staff Reports, Newnan Times-Herald.com, news@newnan.com, Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce recently distributed “Fact vs. Fiction” information regarding the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — TSPLOST — proposal to be voted on this summer.

The “Fact vs. Fiction” list was created by the Georgia Transportation Alliance. Created in 2011, the Georgia Transportation Alliance is affiliated with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Its primary mission is to secure the passage of TSPLOST referendums outside metro Atlanta. The alliance operates the Connect Georgia website, www.connectgeorgia2012.com .

Fact vs. Fiction on 2012 TSPLOST vote

The 2012 TSPLOST is an opportunity for all Georgians to take control of their future by choosing to make significant investments in transportation projects that are vital both to the economy and quality of life throughout the state. With the upcoming vote on July 31 nearing, there are several misconceptions floating around about this one penny sales tax. In order to help clarify statements of fiction from the facts of TSPLOST, this primer serves as a guide to answer any potential questions you may have.
The following “Fact and Fiction” information was distributed by Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with its series of focus group discussions on the proposed TSPLOST vote.

A focus group discussion was held following the Chamber’s breakfast forum on April 24.

“Fiction” statements are followed by “Fact” discussion point

Truth: The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is “a special interest” and lobbying group that raised $8 million to fund the Georgia Transportation Alliance. Follow the money and you find the engineering companies, bankers, light rail equipment, bus manufactures, etc. who want to improve their business at taxpayers’ expense. If passed, TSPLOST is a massive 96% increase in transportation spending over the 10-year period. As my mother said, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” Understand their motive when you hear their paid promoters sell their transportation elixir.    

• Fiction: TIA violates Home Rule of GA Constitution, taking authority away from local governments.
Fact: TIA neither gives new authority nor takes away existing authority from local officials. It gives voters the option to improve the transportation network through a referendum.
Truth: The Home Rule provision of the Georgia Constitution allows citizens to overturn votes of City Councils and County Commissions. Regional Roundtables have no Home Rule provision and votes cannot be overturned by citizens, this is a loss of Home Rule authority as claimed.

• Fiction: Regional Roundtables are a new level of unelected government.
Fact: Regional Roundtables consisted solely of locally elected officials. They were created for the select purpose of compiling a regional project list and disbanded after the completion of that obligation.
Truth: There are two members from each county on the Regional Roundtables, with 18 counties in my region, only 2 Roundtable members are reportable to the citizens of any one county. The British Parliament was elected, but not by the Colonists; this was the original “Taxation without representation.” It is bad policy to have any appointed group spending tax money and making decisions that do not report directly to taxpayers. Regional Government is a new level of government appointed by the Legislature.

• Fiction: Once a tax begins it will go on forever.
Fact: The TIA law is very specific. If approved, this tax can’t be collected beyond 10 years. It must be reauthorized by voters in order to be extended. This will not be like the GA 400 toll extension.
Truth: TSPLOST, if it does get started, allows for a 20-year financial commitment on a 10-year tax. Large public transit projects proposed in Atlanta would take decades to pay for.

• Fiction: The project selections only benefit special interest groups.
Fact: The projects were selected by local officials in a transparent process with public input. Projects were required to have a regional impact. All Georgians will see the benefit of these projects through safer roads and more jobs.
Truth: This happens where public transit programs are the recommended solutions to traffic. Large corporations that stand to profit from public transit projects lobby our legislators. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and his family were given a $17,000 trip to Europe to look at high-speed rail.
Siemens, a large German corporation, donates generously to the Chamber of Commerce, which promotes big transportation tax & spend schemes that profit Siemens. NPR Business News (5-1-12) featured their past history of worldwide corruption scandals saying, “Bribery is Siemens’ business model.”
Contrary to the propaganda, not all Georgians will see the benefit of billions proposed for public transit in Atlanta. GDOT’s 2010 Atlanta Commuter’s Survey showed only 5% use public transit (3% train, 2% bus).  MARTA is 80% subsidized.

• Fiction: The money goes to GDOT in Atlanta and doesn’t come back to the region.
Fact: GDOT never receives any money from the Transportation Improvement Act (TIA). All monies collected locally will be spent locally with NO exceptions.
Truth: GDOT says federal and state fuel tax funds that we all pay will be “redirected.” GDOT website FAQ answer: “In regions that pass the referendum, the revenues generated will supplement funding already appropriated for projects and allow Georgia DOT to redirect federal funding…” Regions pay with regional funds and lose federal fuel tax funds by “redirection” by GDOT. Wake up, read the small print.
FAQ answer: “Helping fund the required match with regional sales tax dollars will allow state and local funds to be redirected to other projects.” Regions lose the federal and state funds by redirection. GDOT says they will get your federal fuel revenue to use on other projects.
FAQ answer: “If federal funds [your federal fuel tax funds] are replaced by regional sales tax funds this will allow other projects to advance in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program…” GDOT says we pay and they keep our federal funds for STIP. Believe them not me.

• Fiction: There are no guarantees that the projects will be built as stated.
Fact: A Citizens Review Panel of five everyday citizens will oversee the finances and construction in each region. Projects must be built as approved by the voters in each region.
Truth: The projects will be built if funds are available; however, 60% of projects in my region are programmed in years 8,9,10. Many regions are heavily loaded in these later years, with unrealistic forecasts of a 3% to 7% tax revenue increase per year. We are not even started and the economy is below forecast.

• Fiction: Georgia already has good roads; new taxes will hurt the economy.
Fact: Georgia’s road network is in good shape, but the capacity simply has not kept up with our state’s growth. Not building new roads will hurt the economy.
Truth: Business Facilities magazine ranks Georgia 7th in the nation in Transportation Infrastructure. How many businesses have you heard of that cannot get goods or services in or out of their business? Few, if any. How many people do you know of that are unemployed or under-employed or have had a salary reduction in the past 3 years? A lot. The economy and jobs are a bigger problem in Georgia than roads. A tax never improves a recession.

• Fiction: The gas tax should be raised instead of the TIA.
Fact: The gas tax is a declining source of revenue. As people drive more fuel-efficient cars and buy less gas, less revenue is raised to support the existing network. A 25 cent/gallon increase in the gas tax would be required to match TIA.
Truth: No tax should be raised. Does it make sense for the Governor and Legislature to resend 1¢ of fuel tax as they did in 2011 and add 1¢ tax on everything you purchase including food and private purchase of used automobiles? Taxes should always be reduced in a recession to stimulate personal income and the economy.

• Fiction: The TIA is a redistribution of wealth from rich counties to poor counties.
Fact: TIA is a regional solution to improve localized transportation networks. Projects built in one county undoubtedly benefit neighboring counties. Economic activity doesn’t stop at the county line
Truth: The TIA regional transfer of wealth was based on the Marxist philosophy: From each county according to its ability to each county according to its need. Most businesses and elected officials espouse free enterprise until they have a chance to get something for nothing. Socialism thrives because it is “for the public good” paid for by someone else’s money. A short sighted self- centered philosophy that eventually self-destructs.

• Fiction: TIA subsidizes MARTA and expensive transit projects.
Fact: Outside Region 3, no money is spent on MARTA. Some regions contain local transit projects (mostly bus service) selected by local elected officials.
Truth: The TIA will expand MARTA that is 80% subsidized by the general fund. The GDOT funds that are “redirected” could be used to pay the current $500 million annual loss. If MARTA is expanded the losses will expand. Public Transit across America is 59% subsidized.

• Fiction: The entire process of monetary allocations among counties and regions is a “Need Fest” established by desire, political coalitions, negotiations and bartering.
Fact: Local officials in each region developed a list of transportation projects that can be funded by the additional revenue generated — and only projects on this approved list will receive funding. Every project on the list leads directly to more jobs, safer roads, and less congestion.
Truth: When the Southern Region met the first time there were $1.1 billion in needs presented for a budget of $670 million. This is a “Need Fest” or you could call it “tell Santa what you want.”

• Fiction: Our county will endure economic damage and losses to local businesses.
Fact: Every penny that is raised in the local regions will be spent on local projects with local oversight. Additional transportation funding will jumpstart Georgia’s economy, provide more jobs in each region and make our roads safer.
Truth: If the TIA tax is spent in the Region, why is “the state” listed as a recipient of regional funds on the Ballot Question? Government must first take the money from the businesses and taxpayers, this extraction of revenue has a “SUBTRACTION” effect on the economy just as new jobs and businesses have a “MULTIPLIER” effect. This is an economic truth. Jobs are destroyed on a broad scale to create jobs in the transportation sector. Econ 101, if you could tax yourself into prosperity we would not be in a recession now.

• Fiction: A 10-year tax is an unreasonable commitment in uncertain times.
Fact: This 10-year commitment would allow every region of Georgia to see a steady increase of jobs, which would positively impact the economy of local communities. If the sales tax is passed, it will free up funds previously allocated to transportation and those will now be eligible for additional regional priorities. A 10-year tax allows regions to provide real solutions to serious transportation problems.
Truth: Tax increases do not improve economic conditions. Do you think there will be repercussions of the European debt crisis? Do you think there will be economic repercussions from the U. S. debt crisis? Do you think these will occur in the next 10 years?
The solution to a recession or depression is to cut the size and scope of the unproductive government sector and allow the private sector (people and businesses) to keep their earnings to stimulate employment, purchases and investments. The TIA is just the opposite, it was designed before the recession hit in 2008 and has ignored the largest economic recession of our lifetime. It is a Bad law at a Bad time.  

• Fiction: Taking on these projects is dangerous and costly for our region.
Fact: All of the projects have been scaled to meet the funds made available by the passing of the TSPLOST. These projects include vital transportation improvements that will help create jobs and increase economic investment in local communities.
Truth: the cities and counties should not take on the responsibility for state and federal road projects, nor forfeit their federal tax funds by GDOT “redirection.” Imposing a new tax and losing current fuel tax funds does not make sense.

• Fiction: The high increase of transportation spending is too excessive in light of the current recession. A tax increase is never the answer to an economic recovery.
Fact: Despite our fast-growing population, Georgia spends less per capita on transportation than almost any other state. This is beginning to make our state less attractive to employers and is negatively impacting our quality of life as Georgians. An investment in transportation will generate jobs, foster economic development, and ensure safety on the roadways.
Truth: Tennessee spends less than Georgia, and like Georgia is rated in the top 10 states for transportation infrastructure. Georgia is in the enviable position of being in the transportation funnel for tourist travel to Florida; with 8 interstates we earn a lot of fuel tax.
You can’t bunch up 3 million people without some traffic problems and quality of life issues. To “invest,” the government must first tax, which reduces business and personal investment and purchases, hence, taxes reduce economic growth, employment and investment.

• Fiction: A sales tax is especially critical to low-income families and elderly people on a fixed income.
Fact: Sales taxes are a fair approach to taxation, ensuring a broad tax base with a lower rate. Sales taxes for transportation reduce the amount of other taxes required to fund local governments. In many cases, non-Georgians will be paying these taxes as they visit and pass through our state.
Truth: The fairest taxes are those which tax the user of the service, like fishing licenses, fuel taxes, toll roads, etc. A sales tax that taxes everything a person buys is harder for low and fixed income citizens. This logic is demonstrated by Georgia’s exemption of the state sales tax on food. All SPLOSTs tax food.

• Fiction: SPLOSTs are bonus taxes and not essential for basic operations.
Fact: The states we compete with for new jobs have taken transportation seriously, investing in it while Georgia has stalled. Funding transportation is a critical role of limited government and helps businesses get their good to customers.
Truth: The fact that SPLOST taxes are bonus revenue is self-evident. We operated city, county, and state government over 130 years with NO SPLOST taxes and progress and economic well- being thrived. All government expands to meet the budget available.

• Fiction: Taxes should be cut — not expanded — so that employers have more money to grow their business activities.
Fact: Investing in transportation gives businesses the opportunity to compete. Getting products to customers on-time gives Georgia businesses a leg up.
Truth: Where are the documented cases of businesses that can’t get products to customers? If this does occur in some specific isolated spot, it does not justify a 96% increase in statewide transportation spending. The “Leg Up” that Georgia needs is lower taxes and a reduced public sector and an expanded private sector of the economy. Industry and wealthy individuals are leaving high tax states and moving to low tax states and countries. We should not let the personal self-interest of special interest groups further harm the Georgia economy.

• Fiction: TIA’s regional projects and decision making is controlled by Atlanta-based politicians.
Fact: TIA takes the power away from a central decision-making geography (such as Atlanta or Washington D.C.) and independently gives decision-making power to local elected officials and voters.
Truth: The Director of Planning for transportation is appointed by the Governor; the Director controls the TIA process, criteria development and project selection. The Roundtables are selected by the Legislature. The Regional Citizen Review Panel members are selected statewide by the Speaker and Lt Governor to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The GDOT is contractor of record on ALL transportation projects statewide, excluding the Atlanta Region.
Why, other that “special interest” was the Atlanta Region excluded, why is Atlanta Hartsfield Airport the only airport statewide exempt from the new sales tax? The only totally local decision is for voters to vote the Ballot Question down. Let’s exercise this right!

• Fiction: TIA is an unnecessary law, especially during a recession.
Fact: TIA is an investment that will bring nearly $19 billion to Georgia during the next 10 years. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that every $1 billion invested in highway construction and improvements supports nearly 28,000 jobs, amounting to more than 530,000 jobs throughout the state in the 10-year span.
Truth: Yes, construction creates jobs, but taxes needed to build the projects can destroy jobs. It is obvious the promoters of the tax refuse to recognize this economic fact. This is an age old problem that Winston Churchill addressed: “For a government to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle.” It is impossible!

• Fiction: Expanding MARTA is problematic because it is only 20 percent supported by fares and 80 percent subsidized.
Fact: Outside Region 3, which is the 10-county metro Atlanta region, no money from the TSPLOST would be spent on MARTA. Some regions contain local transit projects selected by local elected officials from that region.
Truth: See the GDOT promises mentioned above to redirect funds from regions to their STIP projects, and if MARTA is expanded, subsidies will expand whether paid for by the General Fund or redirected funds – Georgia taxpayers get the bill.

• Fiction: Transportation is not Georgia’s number one priority. Business recovery, job production, and economic stability are our top priorities.
Fact: According to the Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan, a new transportation investment strategy can produce more than $480 billion in gross domestic profit growth over the next 30 years and create nearly 425,000 jobs. TSPLOST is going to be a large piece of the puzzle when it comes to rebuilding Georgia’s economic status.
Truth: The economy is Georgia’s number one priority. We lead the nation in bank failures since 2007 at 73 failures. Currently Weiss Ratings list 152 banks as D or E (troubled banks) with 7 banks rated A or B (strong banks).

• Fiction: The TIA is an unnecessary law because Georgia transportation infrastructure is not in crisis.
Fact: Despite the fact that Georgia is the 3rd fastest growing state, it is 49th on transportation spending per capita; only Tennessee spends less. Our gas tax revenue, the primary source of transportation funding, continues to decrease annually with the rise of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Without TIA, Georgia will see less money for transportation, year after year.
Truth: Georgia rated 7th in the nation in Transportation Infrastructure proves there is no crisis. There are some problems in the Atlanta area, but not statewide. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce driven by special interest groups has lobbied for and achieved passage of the TIA that is designed and promoted to “Solve Atlanta’s traffic problem.”

• Fiction: Some counties are donor counties and get back less money than they pay in.
Fact: Commerce goes beyond county lines. People live in one county, but work and shop work in another. Counties that generate more revenue depend on neighboring county roads to get customers to their businesses. Connecting counties together is good for everyone.
Truth: Redistribution of wealth at the county level is as bad as personal redistribution of wealth at the federal level. Would you approve of redistribution of wealth at the state level and Georgia share our taxes with California, Michigan, New York and other bankrupt states? Commerce goes beyond state lines. Theirs is faulty logic and bad policy, taxing producers to subsidize non producers (socialism) is what has caused the economic collapse of Europe and America. It is a failed economic model and needs to be recognized as such, not expanded.

My county (Lowndes) would lose $90 million dollars over the 10 years. People do not travel to Lowndes County to pay tax; they come here to buy goods and services offered by businesses located here. Businesses that buy property, pay taxes, hire employees, inventory goods and provide services and take ALL the risk to do so. They draw the customers and earn the tax revenue. Taxes deny the incentive for the private risk and the just reward of the businessman that draws customer from other counties and states. These businesses earn the money and were it not taxed would be left to expand the local economy. Building roads 8 to 10 years from now is not a stimulus worth waiting on.
Only the uneducated and gullible buy the idea that visitors are paying our taxes. The businesses draw the visitors, earn the money and write the checks for taxes. Taxes lower business’ profits which reduce expansion, real estate prices, jobs and salaries. Taxes can cost your county business but never increase business.

Home Region 10 - Southwest Georgia Fact or Fiction: Chamber of Commerce Distributes T-SPLOST Information
© 2012, Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC, 880 Marietta Hwy., Suite 630-359, Roswell, GA  30075  Phone/Fax: 800-821-0102