Georgia’s business community, led by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, recognizes that being 49th in the nation in per capita spending on transportation is not a formula for long-term profitability, not in a state so dependent on the efficient movement of goods and people.
That’s why they’ve thrown their full weight behind passage of regional TSPLOSTs around the state. They’ve contributed millions of dollars to fund TV advertising and, using future campaign funds as leverage, have strong-armed normally anti-tax politicians into publicly backing the tax increase. Some have also launched in-house campaigns to rally their own employees to vote in favor of the measure.
Their biggest obstacle, however, is not the Tea Party or the Sierra Club or the state chapter of the NAACP, all of which have come out against TSPLOST passage. Their biggest obstacle is themselves.
Why do I say that? Because in an effort to keep their own tax burdens as low as possible, Georgia business leaders have a long history of preaching that taxes are always destructive, government is always incompetent and untrustworthy and there is no problem that can’t be solved by cutting taxes even lower. Moreover, they have backed politicians and political movements devoted to spreading that message, right down to the signing of pledges promising never ever ever to even consider tax increases.
Now, suddenly, they ask voters to forget all that previous rhetoric and embrace the idea of solving a problem through a new tax? For many Georgia voters, that’s going to take a lot more convincing and sweet-talking than two months of a TV ad campaign can provide.
Let’s also remember that the only reason the public is being forced to vote in the first place on this convoluted fundraising scheme is because elected state leaders were themselves too chicken to challenge the anti-tax mentality that they have helped to create. Rather than take the rational, direct method of funding transportation by raising one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation, they shoved that responsibility onto somebody else.
That anti-tax mentality is having consequences in other areas as well. For example, one of the few places where the average citizen interacts directly with state government is the Department of Driver Services, which issues drivers licenses. In recent days, the wait to renew licenses has grown to a frustrating four hours or longer.
The problem is being blamed on new documents being required for issuance of IDs. However, it is compounded by the fact that the Legislature and governor have slashed manpower at the department from 858 personnel in fiscal 2011 to 713 in fiscal 2013. As a consequence, service times in the department had risen significantly long before the additional ID requirements took effect. What you’re seeing at the drivers-licensing offices is a direct result of state leaders continuing to cut taxes even as tax revenues tanked.
And again, we only know about that problem because it is so visible to us. Other functions within state government, from education to transportation to law enforcement, also have to be suffering. Taken too far, the animus against taxes can paralyze government and prevent it from providing functions that are critical for people and businesses both.
If the polls are right, we may see another example of that phenomenon when the voting booths close July 31.