• October 6, 2015

Yes or no: A look into T-SPLOST

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Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:00 am

Early voting is under way, and Cherokee County voters are heading to the polls to pick their candidates for office.

They also are deciding to impose, or not, a 1-cent sales tax for regional transportation.

The primary is set for July 31.

Cherokee County is in the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) region (Region 1 of 12).

Known as the Transportation Investment Act, and commonly referred to as T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), the ballot measure has met a lot of resistance.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve heard elected officials and candidates for office give the same spiel about the referendum. They all contend it’s a bad project list, saying it’s basically subsidizing public transportation in Atlanta.

The ARC Region list, approved in October of last year, includes about $8 billion in projects. According to the project list available at www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com., Cherokee’s list of projects includes critical road improvements, totaling $197 million.

I call the projects “critical” because of the safety aspects on the roads in their current state.

One project on the list is a bridge replacement on Bells Ferry Road over Little River.  For years, school buses have had to detour around the bridge (increasing fuel costs to the district) because it is not safe to cross with the weight of the bus and the bridge’s narrowness. The bridge has a low sufficiency rating of 43.99.

That project is about $7 million.

The remaining monies will go toward widening Ga. 140 across the county.

Anyone who has traveled on Ga. 140 knows how dangerous it is, and it’s likely it was approved to be on the list because it is a truly regional project. Fulton County officials included the widening of 140 in their jurisdiction out to Ga. 400, which also made it to the list.

The amount of traffic on 140 during rush hour times is tremendous, and even if you’re traveling to shop at Harry’s in Roswell on a Saturday, the narrow, curvy roads don’t feel particularly safe.

While I know these are much-needed projects, I can’t overlook the fact that the will of the Cherokee County voters can be circumvented if the majority of voters in the other nine counties say they want the sales tax.

There also is a side pot, if you will, that will be divided among the 10 counties in the ARC region that will go to city and county government in Cherokee to use for road projects at their discretion. It is estimated that Cherokee will get about $75 million over the course of the 10 years. County officials say they have a list of projects for which that money would be used, if the referendum passes.

I’m all for sales tax to be used for needed projects, but I feel it’s more important for the voters to decide with a list of projects in hand, much like we do the current SPLOSTs and the education SPLOST.

An undedicated pot of money for elected officials to use at their discretion doesn’t sit right with me. I want to know that the side pot will be, not may be, used for specific projects, like the Arnold Mill bypass, widening Bells Ferry Road, and most importantly, fixing up Ga. 20, because like 140, that state route is a nightmare.

The consumption-based tax, in my mind, is definitely the way to go, but I think the legislators we entrust under the Gold Dome to make decisions for us got it all wrong.

There is no reason something this impactful should be released for a referendum when there is nothing written in the legislation to protect taxpayers from being levied a tax approved by the will of another jurisdiction.

Without an “opt out” clause, Cherokee County taxpayers and those who visit our lovely county are bound to pay the tax when we shop for clothes, gifts or household items. We are forced to pay that 1 cent on every dollar we spend even though we said we don’t want it.

As to the “Atlanta Bailout” phrase being used, I think that’s just political jargon to get people to vote against it.

It’s not a bailout of Atlanta. The projects in Atlanta’s jurisdictions also are much-needed road improvements to that area – an area a lot of Cherokee County residents travel on their daily commutes to work.

Out of the 30 projects designated for the Atlanta jurisdiction, only three projects are designated for transit, totaling about $652 million. There are other projects designated for transit: one $37 million project in Fulton County; 12 regional projects, totaling $812 million; two projects in Clayton County, totaling $120 million; one in Cobb totaling $689 million; two in Gwinnett totaling $135 million. (Note: these funding totals are not all TIA funds; some include designated federal and local funds).

Out of 158 total projects, I would hardly call 30 Atlanta jurisdictional projects a “bailout,” and with 18 projects out of the 158 projects (or 11 percent) devoted to transit, that’s nowhere near a “transit heavy” project list, as some are calling it.

And transit isn’t 100 percent negative.

When major corporations come to Georgia, one of the main things they look for is the transportation (we’re the ninth worst in the country), as well as education and taxes.

And we are an increasingly lazy society that is entirely too dependent on cars.

When people from other countries, or other parts of the U.S., come here to visit, they are astonished that you have to get in your car to go pick up a loaf of bread, instead of being able to walk or take your bike. They are dumbfounded that most families have at least two cars. People who live across the pond may have one car they use every so often, but definitely not on a regular basis.

It’s clear we need to do something about our traffic problem to get major corporations to choose Georgia, ease our traffic congestion, as well as shift to a lifestyle that’s less dependent on cars (and better for our health).

I’m convinced that the consumption-based T-SPLOST is the way to get us headed in the right direction to correcting our transportation problem; I’m just not convinced this particular T-SPLOST, as it’s written, is the right move.

Like with many other ballots we cast, it looks like the decision will be made deciding on the lesser of the two evils. Or the courts could get involved.

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