Those three tax programs have loomed large as he fights for re-election against three Republicans in the July 31 primary.
Lee explained why he brought the four year Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum to voters in March 2011, which the voters, he is quick to point out, ultimately approved.
capital improvements for a significant number of areas had been put off for a number of years because of the economy with hopes that it would recover sooner than it did,” Lee said. “When that recovery didn’t occur as soon as anticipated or as robust as recoveries had in the past, it was clear that we needed to invest in our infrastructure to keep it as an asset to the community as opposed to a liability.”
County spokesman Robert Quigley says the tax is expected to collect $492 million before expiring on December 31, 2015.
A few months after the sales tax was raised, the commission voted 3-2 with Lee, Woody Thompson and Helen Goreham in favor, to raise the property tax rate as well.
“It was the right thing to do,” Lee said. “If we had not done that we would have been financially unstable, our quality of life would have been significantly impacted negatively, and our attractiveness to create new jobs through business growth and recruitment would have been hindered significantly.”
Without the millage increase, the county government would have had to cut $20 million to $30 million in services, an amount more than the combined budgets of the parks and library departments, he said.
Lee’s opponents believe he should have cut back the county government rather than raise property taxes, but Lee said, “I would encourage you to demand they give specific examples where they would have cut $25 million out of the budget.”
It could not be done, Lee said, “not without significantly impacting the quality of life and the services impacted to the community and thereby negatively impacting our attractiveness to attract new jobs and grow a new economy.”
Lee is criticized for waiting to raise the millage after voters approved the 2011 SPLOST, a calculated move critics say was done to avoid the SPLOST being voted down.
Yet Lee said that is a false criticism.
“Tim Lee’s promise was that SPLOST was needed in order to keep our taxes low because that $400 million program, if it wasn’t voter-approved through the SPLOST, it would have had to have been applied to the county budget, because those are items that needed to be dealt with,” Lee said. “And it would have been 100 percent on the backs of the property tax owners as opposed to the SPLOST, which is a separate mechanism for paying (for) stuff, and which up to 30 percent of the cost, 30 percent of the revenue generated is from folks who are not property owners and live outside of Cobb.”
The latest tax Lee is promoting is the July 31 referendum to raise the sales tax by one percent for 10 years to fund various transportation projects he and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews selected. Referred to as TSPLOST, the proposal has been controversial in Cobb County, although Lee said he wouldn’t say there had been “a lot” of opposition.
“I think there’s been a loud minority that’s been concerned with the project list because they feel it includes a project mix that they don’t agree with,” Lee said.
The largest expense Lee chose for Cobb’s TSPLOST project list is $689 million earmarked for “enhanced premium transit service” from Acworth to the MARTA Arts Center Station in Midtown, which he said will be used for bus rapid transit and may be upgraded to light rail with federal funding.
“Simply put the Northwest Corridor has a very, very existing high ridership on the current systems with a pent up demand for additional capacity that we can’t meet because we don’t have the resources,” Lee said in explaining why he chose that project.
Sixty percent of Cobb’s workforce leaves the county daily with half of that number going to Midtown. Seventy percent of Cherokee’s workforce leaves and over half of it goes to Midtown as well, he said.
“And because of the data that’s been compiled over the last decade over the Northwest Corridor for projected ridership, an alternative such as the bus system that we’re proposing makes sense, and that’s why we recommended it, because it helps deal with the issue of congestion on 75 by providing an alternative to those that are single occupancy automobile,” Lee said.