A Kennesaw State University political science professor said he wasn’t surprised by the low turnout numbers for the SPLOST IV election or that it passed.
Voter turnout was dismal, with just 9.6 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.
“It’s easier to come out and support something like this rather than vote against it,” said Kerwin Swint. “Education SPLOSTs in general probably have a little bit of a leg up because ‘it’s for the kids,’ so I think it’s always had a little bit of an advantage.”
SPLOST IV, which will allow each district to collect a combined $773.3 million from a 1 percent sales tax between 2014 and 2018, passed by about 5,800 votes Tuesday with 23,248 voters in favor of it and 17,317 opposed.
“All of these aside from the first have passed relatively easily,” Swint said.
Ed-SPLOST was first introduced to Cobb voters in 1997 but failed.
Roughly 15 months later, another referendum was brought before voters, and it passed with nearly twice as many voters turning out for the election and about 58 percent of them in favor of it.
“(SPLOST IV) passed, but the margin is going down a little bit,” Swint noted. “We may not always be able to rely on this passing.”
He said passage of the initiative depends on the confidence people have in the economy.
There were approximately 3,200 more “no” votes in this SPLOST election compared to SPLOST III, while the difference in passage was about 3.5 percentage points less.
Uphill battle for opponents
J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the board for the Georgia Tea Party, which opposed SPLOST IV, said he knew it would be an uphill battle not just for his organization but for whoever wasn’t in favor of the initiative.
“As soon as the vote was set to happen in March, I was inclined in the beginning to not even oppose it because we figured we wouldn’t win,” he said.
Van Brink said the odds were against them, but he believes the media coverage of it may have helped their cause in the long run.
“From the very beginning, we were focused on reforming the SPLOST process,” he said. “Getting it defeated is not as important as reforming the process.”
Doing that would require changes to state law, which Van Brink said wouldn’t just benefit Cobb but all of Georgia.
“That would make the entire state more fiscally responsible,” he said.
He said the process will take time, but his group is looking forward to working with the school boards, county commissioners, state legislators and the governor to reform SPLOST.
In questioning the need for another Ed-SPLOST, Van Brink also wondered, “How much is enough?”
He said about two-thirds of the state budget is spent on public education, 70 percent of Cobb County property taxes are spent on public education and that they are accepting a 1-cent sales tax collection on top of the income and property taxes.
“We were told there were roughly $2 billion in needs,” he said. “My question is, are we getting the bang for the buck we deserve, and I don’t think the answer is yes.”
Van Brink said Cobb and Marietta schools can do much better.
“We keep throwing money at all kinds of problems, not just education, but what is it really fixing?” he said.
Van Brink said he does understand there are needs in Cobb and Marietta schools, though.
“We at the Georgia Tea Party believe that about a third of the project lists are needs,” he said. “The shame is that we have to accept so many other things that aren’t needs in order to get the tax collected for the needs.”
Digging deeper into results
In a breakdown of the results, 40,565, or 9.6 percent, of Cobb’s registered voters cast a ballot in the SPLOST IV election. Of those, 37,947 voters were from county polling places and 2,618 from the city.
Among Cobb School Board members, the largest numbers of votes — 7,330 — were cast in David Banks’ northeast Cobb precincts. There were 4,647 votes in favor of the initiative and 2,683 against.
The lowest turnout in the county was in Tim Stultz’s southeast Cobb district, where 2,090 total voters visited the polls. Of those, 1,094 said “yes” to the referendum and 996 said “no.”
For the City of Marietta precincts, the largest number of votes was cast in Ward 1, which is represented by Jill Mutimer. A total of 891 voters cast ballots in her post, 466 for it and 425 against it.
Irene Berens’ voters in Ward 7 had the worst turnout with only 67 voters participating in the election. Of those, 24 were for it and 43 against.