There is nothing “Special” about SPLOSTs any longer. It’s like being served birthday cake with every meal — although it’s probable that they taste more like lobster and champagne to local officials who have come to rely heavily on SPLOST funding.
WITH COUNTY GOVERNMENT SPLOSTS, school board SPLOSTs and last summer’s unsuccessful transportation SPLOST, the public is beginning to suffer from what some have described as “SPLOST fatigue.” It’s a condition that, if left untreated, could easily lead local voters to turn down a future SPLOST or SPLOSTs, regardless of their merits.
One way of lessening that fatigue would be for the state to legalize “fractional,” i.e. “split-penny” SPLOSTs. County governments and school systems each could levy a SPLOST of less than 1 percent under such a proposal. Or, they could join forces to charge a combined 1 percent, i.e., a “shared” SPLOST. The taxpayers would be the winners either way. Rather than school boards and commissions inflating the scope of their SPLOST project lists to match the expected revenue stream, they would be able to downsize their lists to include only what is truly needed, thereby making them smaller, more justifiable and more palatable to voters.
COBB COMMISSION Chairman Tim Lee, Cobb School Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa and Cobb Chamber President David Connell have already bought into split-penny SPLOSTs, to their credit. Lee reiterated his support at a joint breakfast between commissioners and Cobb legislative leaders last week.
“Our county is getting mature to the point where we’re not going to have to add another courthouse or another jail or some major capital improvement,” he explained. “We’re going to have smaller capital improvement projects. We’re going to have more repair and renewal type of projects, and it’s important that we be able to start at the bottom of our list and let it figure out where it ends, so if it ends up at three quarters of a penny for four years we would like to be able to use that as a tool, as opposed to having to get ourselves forced into a penny increment. We think having the flexibility of putting a list together and having it end up where it needs to be is a stronger way to do that.”
Lee also pointed out that having a split-penny or shared SPLOST capability would help Cobb keep its sales tax lower than those of other metro counties.
SPLIT-PENNY SPLOSTS have generally met with positive feedback from Cobb legislators, but would require an amendment to the state Constitution, which likely is a several-year project.
Representatives of the Georgia School Boards Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia tell the MDJ they are unaware of any other counties pushing for the legislation. That’s not surprising, since it’s a fairly new idea and has gotten little media coverage. Yet that’s no reason not to pursue it. Moreover, Cobb is accustomed to taking a leadership role in many state issues.
The issue never apparently made it onto the Legislature’s “radar screen” during last year’s session. But there’s every reason for Cobb’s legislators to make such SPLOST legislation a priority when that body goes back into session early next month.