Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, is campaigning around the state for passage of the regional transportation tax. He is also helping to raise private contributions to fund voter outreach in support of the plan.
And he’s not alone.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, also a Republican, has hit the speaking circuit as well, warning that the state cannot simply cut its way to prosperity but instead must be willing to invest in itself in order to grow. Passage of the TSPLOST, he says, is critical to that growth.
U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, also Republicans, have also expressed public support for passage of the TSPLOST, which if approved by voters in July will impose a one-penny sales tax for 10 years to build transportation infrastructure.
Think about that: The four most high-profile Republican officeholders in Georgia — all four of whom have signed the infamous pledge to oppose “any and all efforts to increase taxes” — have expressed public support for a tax hike. In the case of Deal and Cagle, they are out there actively campaigning on its behalf.
And of course, it’s not just any tax hike. If approved by voters in the 10-county metro Atlanta region and by voters in the other 11 regions across the state, it would become the largest single tax hike ever enacted in Georgia. Yet GOP leaders are still supporting it.
That level of support is pretty amazing, given that the current Republican Party is not exactly forgiving to those it considers heretics on tax issues. To the degree it suggests a unified position among Georgia Republicans, it’s also misleading. A good number of lower-profile Republicans oppose passage of the regional TSPLOSTS, including some — such as Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers — who initially voted in favor of putting the question to voters.
So why are top Republicans endorsing the proposal despite the risk it might pose to their political futures?
In part, it’s because opposing passage of the TSPLOST brings risks of its own. While Tea Party Republicans oppose the measure, the state’s business community is strongly supportive, and they’re the folks who help finance statewide political campaigns.
The cynics among us would point out that the business community supports the TSPLOST because they stand to make money off it, and those cynics have a very good point. For example, approval of the tax would create a decade-long stream of work for the construction and asphalt-pouring industries, which are naturally contributing to campaigns to pass the measure.
However, business support for the measure is much deeper and broader than that, and for good reason. Every business in the state relies on transportation infrastructure to facilitate the movement of its workforce and customers and in many cases its raw material and finished product. They know that public investments by previous generations have created the infrastructure that they rely upon on a daily basis, and they also realize that in recent years that infrastructure has been badly underfunded.
Without a fresh infusion of capital, Georgia’s transportation infrastructure will no longer be competitive in a global economy. This week, with the opening of a new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the region got another reminder of the importance of such links, and of the leadership required to create them.
– Jay Bookman