May 9-- The newspaper in Rome, Georgia published the following editorial on the transportation sales tax (TSPLOST) vote coming up the end of July in Georgia. You might want to read it before you vote.
Also, you may want to attend next Tuesday's TSPLOST briefing hosted by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce in order to be an informed voter. It's at 4:30 p.m. at Southeastern Tech.
Although the editorial discusses North Georgia, many of its conclusions apply to southeast Georgia as well.
Drivers Needed (The Rome News-Tribune)
WERE IT NOT for jawboning by the state and local chambers of commerce, plus quite a few hometown newspapers such as ours, the ballot question on July 31 regarding a special added penny of sales tax that will run for 10 years solely for transportation projects wouldn’t have a prayer of carrying in most of the state. It still may not.
Indeed, this area’s voters can be excused for somehow thinking they are voting on a new tax to build a ton of new highways in the Atlanta metro. The pro-tax advertising bombardment has already begun there on TV that spills over into homes in Floyd, Bartow, Paulding and other counties where the fate of local new road projects — not dreams of untangling interstates — are actually on the ballot.
As noted before, rarely has such a major issue been sent into such a hostile environment ... or been so confusing.
First, this is actually 12 separate referendums for various parts of the state. In Northwest Georgia, the total vote of all the counties involved decides — Floyd could lopsidedly support it but get nothing; Floyd could overwhelmingly oppose it and still have to pay the new tax (and get its road projects).
THERE’S EVEN a “poison pill” in the legislation that won’t show on the ballot: Any region that defeats it will, in the future, have to ante up 30 percent in local “matching funds” to get any state road work done instead of the current 10 percent. Win (pay new tax) or lose (extract more local taxes) the state picks up more transportation money.
And, other than in the core Atlanta area where Democrats still offer up competing candidates, most of the regions will lure primary voters that are heavily of Republican leanings including the Tea Party faithful, already on record as opposing the measure because it is a tax. So, for that matter, do some environmentalist groups, such as the Sierra Club, because they want most, if not all, future “road” money to go to mass transit, not paving.
The balloting deck is stacked against passage in those areas where supporting campaign dollars and feet-on-ground organizational efforts are not overwhelming.
No citizen should really like this proposal as it is a forced selection between the devil and deep blue sea. However, no citizen — particularly in these parts — can really afford to do anything but support it. Why? Because it is likely the last, best chance for this neck of the state-forgotten piney woods to ever see long-sought key highway improvements.
FOR GREATER Rome, this may well be the only way those alive today will ever see a widening of Ga. 140 from U.S. 27 to Ga. 53 and then a four-laning to Adairsville, a total rebuild to four lanes of Ga. 101 from East 12th Street in Rome to U.S. 278 in Rockmart — the deadliest stretch of highway in these parts — plus firm funding for the U.S. 411 Connector to I-75.
Even that wouldn’t be “soon” — look at the timetable on the project list and all these are on the back end, some 7-10 years out — but at least, like the local SPLOST line items Floyd voters are more familiar with, they represent firm commitments. There’s also a large kitty (25 percent) of the revenues set aside for purely local projects to be determined by the home folks.
And that, frankly, would be far, far better then what seems likely to happen if the TSPLOST is voted down.
As Angie Lewis, who heads the local chamber board, put it: “Not having a direct connection to Interstate 75 has cost this community countless jobs over the last four decades. If we do not support this tax, we can add another 10 more years to the wait for more jobs and greater economic growth.”
Actually, it could be more like 20 ... if not 50 years.
STATE LEADERS have said there is no alternative transportation plan if the TSPLOST is defeated but have already signaled what will happen.
Former Gov. Sonny Perdue already gave the General Assembly and executive branch concurrent control over the selection of all state highway projects with the Department of Transportation, in effect emasculating those who know about roads in favor of those who know about politics, bringing home the bacon and such.
Gov. Nathan Deal has warned: “You may not get the General Assembly to be able to delegate that authority back down to local levels of government to participate in the project selection process again, if this proves to be unsuccessful.”
House Speaker David Ralston, chimed in: “If it fails, then I think it is going to be difficult to have the General Assembly go back and re-do something that’s failed. I don’t think there’s going to be any point in trying to dress up a crashed car.”
And then Deal named a political pal and power broker, Toby Carr, former head of the Georgia GOP, as the state’s transportation planning director with the most say on future project selections. Carr, by the way, has his degrees in finance and agricultural engineering likely meaning his background in road planning is limited to driving where his GPS tells him to go.
WITHOUT the TSPLOST, and its mandated project list in coming years, it will be influence and power under the Gold Dome, of which Greater Rome in recent years has had very little, that will determine who dominates the feeding trough and who gets treated like the runt.
Additionally, it is unlikely the ruling legislators will find the state’s $2 billion annual gas tax income sufficient to feed their appetites for pork. Hence it is a pretty good guess that if the sales tax is defeated they will replace such lost income by doubling or tripling the state’s lowest-in-the-nation motor-fuels tax (7.5 cents). Voters wouldn’t get a say on that one.
Even though it involves an added tax, the TSPLOST at least grants this region road improvements it has long begged for. That’s a lot better choice than turning this region’s future over to political deviltry.
Now, would somebody please get into the driver’s seat before this thing runs off the road?