The Legislature’s special redistricting session kicked off today. But with little business to conduct on the first day — first drafts of new statehouse maps have been released, but no bills yet — the show was stolen by some tea partyers complaining about another item on the session’s agenda.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s call to legislators included moving the date of a 2012 referendum on regional transportation sales taxes from the primaries next July to the November general election. This is a cynical move by Georgia Republicans, who are effectively enlisting Obama Democrats — expected to turn out in much higher numbers in November than in July — to pass a tax their own base doesn’t want.
The tea partyers’ response? Turnout turnabout is fair play.
“Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the Democrats in Washington during the Obamacare debate kept constantly changing the rules in the middle of the game to achieve the outcome they wanted,” Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator with Tea Party Patriots, said a press conference in the Capitol. “That’s exactly what’s going on here.”
Georgia’s Republican leaders, she continued, “were saying we need to maximize voter participation. Well, if it’s important to maximize voter participation for the T-SPLOST, isn’t it equally important to maximize voter participation in all future [referendums for] SPLOSTs?”
County leaders have long used special elections to push through SPLOSTs (special-purpose local-option sales taxes) with light turnout. In March, just 11 percent of Cobb voters showed up at the polls for an election to renew the county’s SPLOST; it passed by 90 votes. Five and a half years earlier, the original SPLOST passed by just 114 votes.
A Cobb resident at Monday’s press conference noted that county commissioners said at the time they wouldn’t raise property taxes if the SPLOST passed. Last month, commissioners raised the millage rate anyway, by nearly one-sixth.
I’m asking around to see if there’s support for moving all future SPLOST votes to general elections and will pass on what I hear.
UPDATED at 5:12 p.m.: A spokesman for Speaker David Ralston, Marshall Guest, said the speaker is “open to the idea….he is not afraid to trust the people of Georgia to make that decision. He believes that the the competing ideas should be put before the voters and let the best argument win.”
Guest also noted that the General Assembly already placed some restrictions on when special elections can be held in a law passed in 2008.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal — who wrote in Sunday’s AJC that he supports the transportation tax — said:
We need to invest in our transportation infrastructure. Traffic affects our quality of life and it’s a top concern of business prospects. This isn’t the state forcing through a tax increase. This is giving voters a choice for their local communities.
– By Kyle Wingfield