The MDJ recently reported that Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin is concerned that road resurfacing may consume too large a percentage of Marietta’s next SPLOST. By contrast, at their recent retreat, Cobb commissioners tried to deal with the consequences that the current SPLOST is underfunding road resurfacing, resulting in a significant deterioration of our roads over the last few years.

Taxpayers may wonder why SPLOST dollars are being used for road resurfacing. Isn’t SPLOST supposed to be used for big, expensive, one-time special purpose projects? Why is SPLOST being used for normal annually reoccurring necessities that should be budgeted out of the general fund?

The 2016 SPLOST was actually on the ballot in November 2014. I supported the 2016 SPLOST. Many people were mad at me for that.

I had opposed the 2011 SPLOST because, in the depths of the recession, that SPLOST was loaded with what I referred to as “luxurification projects”.

In 2012, I opposed the T-SPLOST. I had been hoping to support the T-SPLOST. But as I have always advised, the merits of any SPLOST depends on the merits of the projects list. Voters correctly rejected the T-SPLOST because the projects list focused on incentivizing high-density development, and would have produced little, if any, improvement in mobility.

I faced a dilemma on the new SPLOST in 2014. There were still a lot of “wants, not needs” in the proposed 2016 SPLOST. However, the new SPLOST had become the only funding source for all of Cobb’s annually reoccurring capital costs, like road resurfacing, building maintenance, vehicle replacement, etc. I had thought that defeating the only funding source for these necessities would be disastrous.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that while Cobb had removed all of these items from the regular budget, they were underfunding these necessities in the new SPLOST. That’s why we have fallen so far behind on vehicle replacement and road resurfacing in the last few years. (To be fair, Mike Boyce and Keli Gambrill were not on the BoC in 2014, and I don’t believe that any of the district commissioners were provided sufficient information at that time to have been able to foresee the problems that would result within a few years.)

Many taxpayers complain that SPLOST means Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and that it was intended as an alternative funding source for big special purpose projects, rather than taking on a lot of long-term debt.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins responds that when a county issues bonds, it adds to the debt service component of your property taxes. Property taxes pay off the bonds. Sen. Tippins therefore views a SPLOST as an alternative to significantly higher property taxes.

I would add that there is no homestead exemption applicable to the debt service component of property taxes. Therefore higher property taxes would become a disproportionate burden for older and lower-income homeowners. Also, apartment owners would raise rents to offset higher taxes.

I supported the SPLOST in the November 2014 election because I thought the consequences of having no funding source for all of these annually reoccurring necessities would be disastrous.

I also said that we needed to use the next few years to reform SPLOST. Well, four years later, there’s no SPLOST reform. And we still have a lot of annually reoccurring necessities that are going to continue to be 100% funded by SPLOST. OUCH!

There are hazards in funding these annually reoccurring necessities with a temporary funding source. If a SPLOST ever fails, Cobb will have a massive problem. While our commissioners are acknowledging that hazard, and may begin to slowly move some of these expenses back into the budget, without SPLOST reform, they have no funding source to quickly fix this hazard.

So, I may have to accept that while I still think SPLOST needs to be reformed, there is clearly no broad consensus of people who agree with me and are willing to work together to make that happen.

And clearly, in November 2020, a SPLOST will be on the ballot which will be the only funding source for these annually reoccurring necessities for the next four-six years.

The merits of any SPLOST depends on the merits of the projects list. Public safety infrastructure and transportation infrastructure are among the most fundamental necessities that local government must provide. If SPLOST is going to be the funding source, then voters should insist that the SPLOST must adequately fund our most basic necessities.

And sooner or later, Cobb is eventually going to have to deal with SPLOST reform.

Ron Sifen’s views are his own and do not represent the opinions of any other group.

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