Editorial: A tax by another name… (TSPLOST) (SPLOST) (TIA)

Bucky Johnson, the Mayor of Norcross and Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, made a big deal in a recent editor letter (MDJ – ‘Splish-Splash’ column wrong about new tax’ October 16, 2011) about the difference between a SPLOST, a TSPLOST and the Transportation Investment Act (TIA), which comes up for a vote in July 2012. The TIA is estimated to raise more than $16 billion through a one-percent statewide sales tax over 10 years. An estimated $6.1 billion would be raised in the 10-county metro Atlanta region, which includes Cobb.

Regardless of what the Transportation Investment Act is called, it is the biggest single tax in the history of the state of Georgia. A tax this big demands absolute clarity and strict enforcement provisions for every word, every paragraph and every jot and dash to ensure that all promised projects are delivered. Mayor Johnson’s letter confirms to me there are no real enforcement provisions in the TIA.

As the Transportation Investment Act is written, enforcement does not exist.

Johnson asserts that the “Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission is responsible for payments and ensuring that the revenue is being spent as authorized by the list.” This is true, but it misses the point. Nothing in the law prevents GDOT or other agencies from moving money from one project to another within a district, especially if any future study shows it is infeasible to build a particular project.

The logical thing would have been to do studies before creating a project list. Yet, in this fine example of government foresight and planning, only after the tax is passed will feasibility studies be done. Only then will we know if projects are viable and should be built, but by then the politicians will have our money, if we vote for this tax. If the studies deem any project as infeasible, will it still be funded? Or, will the money for an infeasible project get shuffled off to another one within the district, like maybe, light rail? Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine.

Cobb voters will remember that Cobb Department of Transportation head Faye DiMassimo told us that voter approved SPLOST projects would be deferred to a future SPLOST, due to cost overruns and revenue shortfalls. Nowhere in SPLOST law is this allowed, but it was done. So much for the law. Likewise with the TIA, projects may be deferred.

I agree with Mayor Johnson that the Transportation Investment Act is different than a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and that the same rules do not apply. Regrettably, even those few weak rules that enforce SPLOST do not apply to the TIA. That’s unfortunate for us, and our pocketbooks.

The Transportation Investment Act was deliberately written to be vague and open to interpretation. The law is silent concerning enforcement by the state attorney general, the administrative law process and grand jury oversight. This is the real teeth of any enforcement of any law, not an appointed citizen oversight panel with virtually no legal authority. TIA as written has no enforcement provisions. The only way to make sure all promised projects will be built is if we as citizens litigate.

Mayor Johnson has failed to show any proof that the TIA law is sufficient to protect the promised projects. Instead, he has chosen to play word games. The word you should remember is “TAX” and that this is the largest tax in the history of our state.

We can end this nonsense by voting NO in July 2012.

James Bell

Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, Inc.


One thought on “Editorial: A tax by another name… (TSPLOST) (SPLOST) (TIA)

  1. Excellent analysis, James. This is a distorted process being driven by “squeeky wheels”.

    I look forward to hearing more of what you think on the issue – particularly when it comes to igniting the fire in the grassroots to fix this legislation.

    You’re one of too few with a track record instead of just talk.

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