15 Sep 2014
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Why we are voting NO on T-SPLOST

'We are not intrinsically against sales tax, but we don’t believe this particular plan gives enough back to our neighborhood.'

Why we are voting NO on T-SPLOST Why we are voting NO on T-SPLOST

by Lee Jessen

My husband, Peter, and I are very much opposed to this bill. We carefully researched the websites, t-splost.com and www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com, looking at each project. What we found was that very little is planned within the city. Here are a few of our points:

  • First of all, I am against this bill because I believe it doesn’t give enough benefit to lower income areas of Atlanta. It is being presented as the only option and our neighborhood doesn’t get anything from it – no Beltline investments, no road improvements, no Moreland Avenue changes, etc. Is it because most residents in our Southside neighborhoods are not affluent or influential?
  • This bill provides that 85 percent of the tax raised in one area can be spent outside that region.

Here is how it is worded:

How will the money be used?

All funds generated through the 2012 TSPLOST would stay in the region in which they were raised and be distributed in two ways:

  • 75 percent would go to the regional projects on the approved list (85 percent in metro Atlanta) — many of which have been on the drawing boards for years but lacked the funding to go forward.
  • 25 percent (15 percent in metro Atlanta) would be returned to the region to be used for local projects chosen by city and county officials. Cities and counties will receive these extra funds in direct proportion to their population and the number of road miles in their jurisdiction.

So, of 100 percent collected in metro Atlanta, 85 percent of that money will go to approved projects anywhere in the 10-county region? Fifteen percent will be used for local projects. An 85/15 percent split in favor of the overall region is not to our advantage and why is Atlanta only getting 15 percent when other areas receive 25 percent? The City of Atlanta raises a significant amount of
sales tax (sports and university events, tourists, conferences, festivals, etc) that will be spent in outlying areas. The metro area bears the burden of infrastructure for visitors and commuters, but is not allowed to use all of the sales tax generated from these metro events.

  • Atlanta is specifically mentioned and other areas get 25% back, why is Atlanta singled out to receive a lower percentage, especially considering how much of this revenue is generated through our resources, such as sports events, tourism, festivals, theatre, etc.?
  • There is no long-term plan for maintenance of the new infrastructure. We are in a time of economic decline and it is not the time to build new roads and MARTA infrastructure to be maintained when we don't know where that future maintenance money is coming from. It’s like you losing your job, and then putting in a pool that you can’t afford to maintain.
  • I also resent that there are penalties for any region that does not vote “yes” to the bill. Here is the quote from t-splost.com: “Regions where the voters do not approve the transportation tax will not receive the additional funds to pay for proposed projects in their area of their state.” This, to me, is political blackmail presenting the threat of penalties for anyone not voting in favor of this particular transportation tax bill. In my opinion, this should be illegal.
  • This is a regressive tax that puts a harder tax burden on the poorest people – all food, drugs, everything is taxed. It is a harder tax burden on our lowest income neighbors. This proposed tax increase will be the single largest tax increase in Georgia’s history. Nothing purchased in a retail setting is exempt from this one percent tax increase. Food, clothing, gasoline... everything. Even the grocery items currently exempt from sales tax will incur this tax. We are not intrinsically against sales tax, but we don’t believe this particular plan gives enough back to our neighborhood.
  • We believe that a gas tax, instead, would be more appropriate since it would rightly tax the people using the roads the most. A more fair solution for road work funding would be to increase fuel taxes and/or road use fees. Taxing gasoline and diesel fuel draws a direct connection between cost and use of roads.
  • Because fuel tax increases and road use fees are unpopular, elected officials won’t consider this option unless we deny them the additional one percent sales tax and force them to think again. This sales tax imposes an unfair burden of those of us who have found a way to drive less. Conservation is the way to reduce air pollution and lessen gridlock.
  • City of Atlanta residents already pay an extra one percent sales tax to separate and repair its old sewers and storm drains. It is just too much to ask us to pay more in sales tax so commuters can have an easier time of it. Let the commuters pay for their own roads.
  • We don't believe it will significantly create jobs or provide “multiplier effect” economic benefits for the City of Atlanta. We also don’t believe that the proposed changes will make any difference in downtown connector traffic congestion.
  • During the economic hardships that are leading to record home foreclosures, we don’t see how we can ask everyone to willingly increase their tax load. The average expected tax increase will be $300 per household. To some individuals and families, this will present a significant hardship. And if you’ve lived in Georgia for long, you know that once a tax is instated, we pay it forever.

I was in the grocery store recently and saw an elderly man shaking his head saying "My, oh, my" I asked him if I could help and he said "The price of peanut butter has gone up so much! I can't afford it anymore" And it made me sad to think that a bill like this increases the cost of a jar of peanut butter a minimum of an extra 6 cents (not counting the reverberating effect of increased sales taxes). HE is the one who is really hurt by increases like this and HE doesn't get any benefit in this area of town, especially if he can't drive a car. I think we can all agree that food prices are going up due to drought and our cost of money is set to increase, both things which really hit the lower to middle class. This is not the economic time for a bill like this. Let's instead think about how we are going to maintain what we have.

For more information, please read the Sierra Club article “Why Voters Should Say No to the T-SPLOST”. They make many points, including political issues relating to the governance and control of this money. They also make the point that “the road funding neglects maintenance and needs to focus on new capacity, with five times as much funding going to expanded capacity than to maintenance and operations, further compounding an already serious backlog
of asset management needs”. Here is the Sierra Club article URL: http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageNavigator/20120430_TSPLOST.html

Other websites with t-splost opinions: http://tsplost.com/ or http://www.citystink.net/2012/06/15-reasons-to-detest-t-splost-and.html

Our basic take on it is "no" to an additional sales tax on everything anyone buys and "yes" to an additional excise tax on gasoline, diesel fuel and toll/road fees. Place the tax more directly onthose who benefit most from the expanded road infrastructure.

Please join us in voting “no” on July 31st.

Ms. Jessen, of Ormewood Park, is a CPA.

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