However, the real answer is that we need far more comprehensive reform of the SPLOST process than just the question of fractional pennies.
— Georgia supposedly assures that voters have the opportunity to approve or reject new taxes in an election. Scheduling SPLOST votes for special elections or obscure “off-elections” when there are few other items on the ballot, dramatically suppresses turnout, and assures that most voters will not vote on the proposed tax. Any tax votes should only be allowed during November general elections in even-numbered years.
— Georgia requires an 80-day waiting period between a tax vote and its implementation. This requirement enables local jurisdictions to argue that if they held the SPLOST vote in November, they could not implement tax collections on Jan. 1. In the 21st century, there is no need for an 80-day waiting period. If our legislators would shorten the waiting period to 45 days, this “issue” would be eliminated.
— SPLOSTs were created to give local jurisdictions a funding mechanism for occasional major projects that could be paid for by an extra penny tax for a few years, rather than issuing long-term bonds, and paying interest for 20 years.
A few years ago, when Cobb needed to build a new courthouse and a new jail, these were projects for which the SPLOST concept was intended. However, over the years, when old SPLOSTs were expiring, governments didn’t want to let go of the income stream. SPLOSTs morphed into a mechanism to provide more and more and more services and “luxurifications.”
In some cases, SPLOSTs began funding the start up of new services or expansion of services, which would necessitate future operating and maintenance costs. Do taxpayers really need SPLOSTs to expand government services in ways that necessitate future tax increases?
— SPLOST project lists used to be formed by identifying the projects that were needed, and then proposing a SPLOST tax that would raise enough money to pay for those projects. That was a “bottom up” process.
Today, SPLOSTs are constructed through a “top down” process. Governments ask how much money they can raise with a one cent tax for a certain number of years. Once they decide they can raise $600 million over five years, then they try to figure out all the different projects, services, and “luxurifications” that they can spend the money on.
Do we “need” additional services because we need them? Or is government deciding to expand services only to justify renewing its SPLOST income stream? Have SPLOSTs become nothing more than “slush funds”?
It is time for government to go back to a “bottom up” approach to SPLOSTs. And it is time for taxpayers to recognize that more and more and more services equals more and more and more taxes.
— We also need reform to stop governmental and quasi-governmental entities from using tax dollars to influence voters on the reasons to vote in favor of a proposed tax.
In 2012, the region’s CIDs and the Atlanta Regional Commission used tax dollars to fund communications to “educate” voters on the alleged benefits of the T-SPLOST. The “facts” were carefully selected and “massaged” to influence voters to vote for the T-SPLOST, without saying the words “Please vote for the T-SPLOST.”
As an example, they claimed that the purpose of the T-SPLOST was to reduce our traffic congestion. They were later forced to admit that this did not mean there would be less traffic or fewer cars on our roads, or that it would result in reduced commute times.
We don’t need our tax dollars spent to deceive voters into voting to increase taxes to fund boondoggles that benefit special interests, while giving taxpayers little benefit for their money. Our legislators should prohibit any government or quasi-governmental entity from using any tax dollars to communicate any information regarding the alleged benefits of any tax or other issues that are on a ballot during an election.
I support the fractional penny as part of a comprehensive reform of the SPLOST process. I do not support the fractional penny as a way to avoid dealing with even larger abuses of the SPLOST process.
Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.