Lisa Cupid asked business leaders Tuesday for their input as Cobb County crafts a platform for a new mobility sales tax that is likely to appear on the ballot next November.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners chairwoman made clear that she saw next year as the “one solid shot” to pass a special purpose local option sales tax for mobility (M-SPLOST). And she drove home the point that the project list for such a tax must be popular enough to win voters’ approval.
Under Georgia’s House Bill 930, Cobb can impose a 1%, 30-year sales tax to fund transit. It can also impose an additional 1%, 5-year sales tax for transportation projects under HB 170.
Both taxes can also be made fractions — Cupid discussed a half- or quarter-penny tax as options. The maximum increase would be a total of 2% higher sales tax on all goods and services.
The key, Cupid made clear, was crafting a winning project list. The chairwoman only spoke for about 10 minutes before having to leave to attend a Board of Commissioners work session, and in that time, Cupid didn’t reveal any new details about what those projects might be, or how much of a sales tax increase the county will seek. Stakeholder meetings start this week, and she encouraged those gathered at the event, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s mobility summit, to get involved.
Options include heavy rail, bus service, bike lanes, transfer centers and road expansions.
“This is a matter of supporting our economy here, and supporting our pipeline,” Cupid said.
When county-hired firm Kimley-Horn surveyed Cobb residents, less than 20% said they use transit, Cupid said. But, as the MDJ previously reported, more than 70% favored investing in transit. Only 48% to 50% said they would vote to tax themselves for it, however.
“For those of you in the political space, we know it takes 50% plus one. So we need to get to that plus side,” Cupid said.
Another 15% of the survey respondents indicated they couldn’t decide whether they support the tax until they see the project list. That’s why, Cupid said, the county must address the “WIFM” — what’s in it for me?
Part of the equation, she said, is whether to invest in coverage, productivity, or some balance of the two. Focusing on coverage would increase areas of the county accessible by transit, she said, while focusing on productivity would mean moving people through the county as quickly as possible.
The county, she added, must learn from those referenda that have failed. Though she didn’t mention any by name, in 2012 Cobb voters overwhelmingly rejected then-Chairman Tim Lee’s T-SPLOST. And Gwinnett voters in recent years narrowly rejected a transit SPLOST that would have brought heavy rail to Gwinnett.
“Please help us,” Cupid said. “We need your input. We need to know: Do you want a productive service, are you looking for more coverage? Do you want a balance of that? We want to make sure that we get it right.”
Before introducing the next speakers, Georgia Power’s Britt Fleck agreed that the attendees should make their voices heard.
“I loved what you (Cupid) said — the transportation mobility plan is an opportunity for all of us to get engaged,” Fleck said. “It’s connecting everyone ... and it’s a chance to make a difference.”