T-SPLOST limits tax options for far more than 10 years

In name, the proposed 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects would sunset within 10 years. In reality, the list of these projects for metro Atlanta makes one thing clear: This is no 10-year tax.

On the contrary, voters should consider it the beginning of an approach to infrastructure financing on which the sun never sets — one that is fraught with implications for our entire revenue structure.

The draft list of projects, due for final approval by 21 local officials next month, features several items that would receive less than state experts say they’ll cost. That includes four transit projects that come up a total of $900 million short:

  • A rail line from the Lindbergh MARTA station to Emory University, pegged at $1 billion for capital costs and about $27 million more for a decade of operating costs, was pledged $700 million.
  • A light rail line from the Arts Center MARTA station to the vicinity of Cumberland Mall would be allocated $856.5 million, even though capital and operations costs for this first phase — the whole plan entails eventually going all the way to Acworth — are estimated at $1.25 billion.
  • A pair of streetcar segments on the Atlanta Beltline, representing only a portion of its grand vision, would get $600 million out of their $780 million estimated costs.

Perhaps these projects, and some short-funded road work, will defy history and come in under budget. More likely, they’ll need more money to reach their destinations. Until then, the ridership for these four projects of 35,800 people — 1.6 percent of metro Atlanta’s 2.2 million commuters today — won’t fully materialize.

And that doesn’t even count the billions of dollars worth of projects — such as a light rail line to the Gwinnett Arena and a northward MARTA extension along Ga. 400 — that are getting “only” tens of millions of dollars in planning funds.

Those projects aren’t going to be “teed up” with seed money and then forgotten. Taxpayers will be asked to renew the penny tax for another decade — and beyond.

That’s not necessarily news: Tax supporters have said all along that the region has needs that will take decades to fill. But what’s left unsaid is that approving today a permanent regional sales tax ties the hands of future elected leaders.

Many Georgians favor shifting more of the tax burden to consumption. Proposals ranging from former Speaker Glenn Richardson’s GREAT Plan, to this year’s recommendations of a special council on tax reform, to the FairTax for the federal government, all rely on taxing consumption more heavily and lowering other taxes.

Yet, our patchwork of dedicated SPLOSTs (special-purpose local-option sales taxes) means consumption is already taxed heavily. The 8 percent rate in Atlanta, for instance, is already higher than the average rate of 7 percent in Florida and approaching the 9.4 percent average in Tennessee — two neighboring states where individual income isn’t taxed at all.

Add another penny for this regional T-SPLOST, and we’ll have shifted toward consumption without any drop in income taxes or other levies. And without leaving much leeway for doing so in the future.

The current speaker, David Ralston, says ambitious tax reform is still near the top of his agenda for 2012 — even as there will be a renewed push under the Gold Dome to move the date of the T-SPLOST referendum to November to make its passage more likely. Does anyone see a potential conflict?

It may be that metro Atlanta’s voters prefer adding a penny tax here and there with concrete purposes over a system with less spending accountability. But that’s a decision to be made with clear eyes about what it will allow down the road, and what it will not.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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54 comments Add your comment

jconservative

September 1st, 2011
5:42 am

Solid column Kyle. Good job.

mark

September 1st, 2011
5:43 am

Like every other “option” tax that has come along in the last 20 years, once they start there is always a special interest thet thinks their pet project should be funded next. I always thought that the fuel taxes and real estate taxes were to fund the roads. And when proponents of any tax say “it’s only a penny” its misleading. I only have 100 pennies in my dollar and about 39 of those pennies already go to some type of tax. Just say no this time!

Maximillion

September 1st, 2011
5:56 am

“Solid column Kyle. Good job”.

Who is this guy? Weird….

Road Scholar

September 1st, 2011
6:02 am

Kyle, I believe you omitted the possibility of GDOT adding Federal funds to many of the projects, thus funding them possibly to full need. Todd Long, GDOT PLanning Director, has said that numerous times. This was omitted from your article.

So what is your option, if you don’t likre this plan? Upping the gas tax? The legislature hasn’t had the guts to increase this “user fee” . Instead they have put their “money” on Private Public Partnerships….how are they working for you…none to date. The one for i 75/575 is still “subsidized ” with taxpayer money…TIFIA loans and other funds. Or is your piece just based on the conservative mantr, “No”?

ByteMe

September 1st, 2011
6:06 am

Many Georgians favor shifting more of the tax burden to consumption

Many Georgians believe that the world is only 6500 years old. The vague “many Georgians” could be any number, including a tiny minority of flat-earthers. Hard to know without specific numbers whether those people are a significant number or just a few noisy fools.

Karl Marx

September 1st, 2011
6:11 am

The hard cold truth is we can’t afford to take care of what we have built. Why build more? All of these mass transit projects are maximum cost for the least impact. You can add another penny sales tax just to keep those going. I’m voting no.

Kelly

September 1st, 2011
6:36 am

Kyle is correct. Georgians have rejected the idea of broadening the sales tax base by adding services or groceries, so the only way to reduce income and property taxes is to increase the sales tax rate. the TSPLOST would greatly limit this option.

xCalaber

September 1st, 2011
7:49 am

T-Splost is already dead. All the pundits are positoning about who to blame for it’s death. The fact is that the people in the outer counties are unhappy with the lack of solutions to their daily traffic problems and the political leadership in the urban core has decided not to support T-Splost becasue there is not enough money spent in Dekalb and Fulton.

Aquagirl

September 1st, 2011
8:15 am

people in the outer counties are unhappy with the lack of solutions to their daily traffic problems

That’s what happens when you expect the impossible. And also when you expect other people to pave more of their area so you can speed through back and forth to your McMansion.

there is not enough money spent in Dekalb and Fulton.

We’ve paid an extra penny for decades now, god forbid the other counties pick up some of the slack.

JDW

September 1st, 2011
8:16 am

I understand you don’t like the tax Kyle. I know you and “many Georgians” believe all taxes are evil and the world would run much better without government at all. What I don’t understand is how you plan to address the pressing transportation needs of the state without funding. Transportation, water, education all act as an economic governor on the states economy. Without solutions we will continue our long dreary march to the lower tiers of US economies and newsflash…solutions to infrastructure problems cost money. Since infrastructure needs never vanish, isn’t it time we developed “an approach to infrastructure financing on which the sun never sets”.

As to the math on the specific projects, typical Repugican math. You see they control the government here and they put together the list. If you have problems with how the money is to be spent maybe you should consider voting for the alternative in November.

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
8:30 am

Hey GM and ByteMe….it is “Gay Black Pride Weekend”, I know you are happy! Will you be participating in the festivities?

Sees with a Vision

September 1st, 2011
8:31 am

I’d vote for the penny if they’d use the money to buy everyone a moped and restrict traffic from my McMansion to downtown to those type vehicles during commuting rush hours.

No Artificial Flavors

September 1st, 2011
8:36 am

The T-SPLOST bill is a bad one all the way around. I always support the regular SPLOST and ELOST because these are true property tax relief taxes that ensure all local consumers pay for infrastructure. The TSPLOST bill is a half truth. Being regional it is not a property tax relief and it is not an income tax relief. In fact, if the tax fails in a region the local county match on GDOT funding is greatly increased as a kind of punishment. This will only make counties raise taxes or most likely defer needed projects.

I hope it fails across the state so that there will be a total rewrite of the bill to allow for major income tax relief if the tax passes.

carlosgvv

September 1st, 2011
8:42 am

I wonder how many voters actually believe funds from this one percent sales tax will actually all go to fund transportation projects? Once the politicians get their hands on this or any money, much of it goes to their pet pork projects and/or into their pockets.

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
8:55 am

Carlos….are you not a democrat, doesnt your party push for the tax increases? Now tell me who funds the pet pork projects?

Chip

September 1st, 2011
8:59 am

If ever there were proof of politicians’ blind obsession with multi-billion dollar boondoggles, this is it. This is nothing more than corrupt schemers trying to accomplish two things: (1) get their hands on billions of taxpayer dollars for assorted sweetheart deals for friends and brothers-in-law, along with only-Heaven-knows what kinds of bribes, payoffs, and kick-backs, and (2) shift pollitical power from local municipal and county governments that are directly accountable to voters, and consolidate that power into the hands of a large, unaccountable, unelected gang of beauracrats who will run over any homeowner, small business owner, or neighborhood that gets in the way of any particular boondoggle.

Who really things that rail projects and bike lanes are worth this kind of money in an economy on the brink of implosion? Who really thinks that a silly, provincial, hopelessly corrupt, inept, bungling, Third World joke of a city like Atlanta can “lead” the way on anything? And how much of these billions will be diverted and re-routed to ridiculous un-related projects in the name of “social justice”?

This vote will most likely fail, and should fail, because the responsible working people have been taxed beyond any reasonable measure long ago… but if the metro area is insane enough to go for this, then I do believe they will get exactly what they deserve… and it will not be pretty.

carlosgvv

September 1st, 2011
9:10 am

UGA 1999

Oh, silly me. How could I forget to mention that it’s only the bad ole Democrats who push pork and not those good Christian Republicans?

scrappy

September 1st, 2011
9:10 am

If not this small tax, then what? Just ignore the problem?

Suburbs need the city, and the city needs the suburbs, grow up people and stop bickering. Traffic in this city is hell, and without a solution the city will lose businesses (and the jobs and money spent on said businesses) and slowly die.

Since their is no other solution, and since we all know the State gov. isn’t going to pay for it, or even discuss it, this is what we have. Is it perfect? Perhaps not, but what really is?

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
9:16 am

Carlos, Good, I am glad we agree. Being that Obama promised in his campaign to eliminate pork in bills before he would sign them. Great job!

carlosgvv

September 1st, 2011
9:19 am

UGA 1999

Of course you know that this 1% tax increase is proposed for GEORGIA and that Obama is not involved?

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
9:21 am

Carlos….agreed.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

September 1st, 2011
9:31 am

“Once the politicians get their hands on this or any money, much of it goes to their pet pork projects and/or into their pockets.”

Carlos, get a grip on reality, would you please?

Into their pockets?

Please cite for us all the politicians in Georgia who have been indicted, tried and/or convicted of putting tax revenues into their pockets.

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
9:41 am

Not HS Grad College Grad & Post-grad
% of Democrats 32% 15%
% of Independents 22% 18%
% of Republicans 19% 23%

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
9:42 am

Income under $75,000 over $75,000
% of Democrats 74% 26%
% of Independents 72% 28%
% of Republicans 57% 43%

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
9:48 am

Interesting numbers eh?

Aquagirl

September 1st, 2011
9:56 am

Please cite for us all the politicians in Georgia who have been indicted, tried and/or convicted of putting tax revenues into their pockets.

When you fire people who are going to issue you a subpoena the list gets pretty short. Funny how that works.

Zap Rowsdower

September 1st, 2011
10:01 am

UGA 1999

Can you provide a link to those percentages?

Zap Rowsdower

September 1st, 2011
10:03 am

Kyle, are you gonna post a piece about how Obama fumbled his speech? The left is going crazy over it right now.

Benjamin

September 1st, 2011
10:03 am

I vote NO. Those residents of cobb and Gwinnett blocked Marta in 96 with all their racist code talk of “riff raff” and “undesirables” as if someone was going to take a bus from the hood to Gwinnett and back with your television and VCR. You wanted pristine and inaccessible suburbs, you got em. Stay in them and enjoy your commute. Most Marta money comes from the black and poor residents of Atlanta, yet the money goes to expansion for people who didn’t even want it when it was FREE MONEY? Expand Marta in sw Atlanta…those are the people who use it and pay for it. Their MARTA fare money goes to support the gwcc buses who are repaired by MARTA. You don’t want MARTA, you called it “moving Africans rapidly through Atlanta”, yet they now want it? Building commuter light rail like the Amtrak Mark before you have a broad public transportation system for it to feed into is just DUMB.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

September 1st, 2011
10:20 am

“When you fire people who are going to issue you a subpoena the list gets pretty short. Funny how that works.”

Yeah, ’cause that happens all the time, too. . . :roll:

Sheesh!

1961_Boomer

September 1st, 2011
10:27 am

Everywhere in Georgia, the TSPLOST is pitting more urbanized areas against the outlying more rural areas. Whether the fight is Atlanta/Fulton/Dekalb against Gwinnett or Hall/Forsyth against Lumpkin/White, the highest density areas will command a sum that is substantially greater than the ratio of to their population to the whole. This will make the outlying areas.

The Metro TSPLOST proposed MASSIVE spending on transit, and throws the most populous county, Gwinnett, a $300 million bone. Gwinnett will be subsidizing Atlanta/Dekalb/Fulton/Clayton transit in perpetuity. These counties will out-vote Gwinnett and extract 1% sales tax from Gwinnett… essentially forever. The same is true for every other region of the state. Citizens from the less-populated regions of the state will be forced to pay a sales tax that will never benefit their communities at all.

Kyle Wingfield

September 1st, 2011
10:58 am

Road @ 6:02: The federal money over which GDOT has discretion has already been allocated to other projects. There is the hope of winning future federal grants for these projects, and that may well be more likely if there is significant local money already committed to them, but it’s just that — a hope. Not a plan.

ragnar danneskjold

September 1st, 2011
11:05 am

Well argued. I rarely see a proposed tax increase worthy of support, and the T-SPLOST does not seem to affect that trend.

carlosgvv

September 1st, 2011
11:07 am

Tiberius – “please cite for us all the politicians in Georgia who have been indicted”

Tiberius, what a naive boy you are. This is Georgia, son, and all the crooked politicians look out for each other and scratch each other’s backs. They have learned all sorts of ways to beat the system and pocket monies not rightfully theirs. You need to wake up and smell the corruption.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

September 1st, 2011
11:12 am

So in other words, carlos, you’ve got nothing.

Got it.

carlosgvv

September 1st, 2011
11:22 am

Tiberius

You have much to learn, sport.

Logical Dude

September 1st, 2011
11:29 am

Pretty good read on the situation Kyle.

But I disagree with the idea that many Georgians want more of a consumption tax. I think that if the Georgia Legislature had the backbone to actually fully fund needed DOT projects, the T-SPLOST would not be needed. Unfortunately, we have a Legislature that is too scared to even vote on funding, and relegated their responsibility to multiple sub-areas of the state. They created even more beauracracy to just handle this ONE funding item.

“At least they did something”. . . So different areas can at least generate the funds in some way. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best the State will let happen.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

September 1st, 2011
11:36 am

What I’ve “learned” carlos, is to not make sweeping generalities that I cannot back up with factual data.

I’ve learned that while there are some politicians that are into the profession for personal gain, the vast majority I’ve met and served with are not.

I’ve learned is that you’re basically an uninformed blow-hard that is generally disgusted with those who have done something in their lives that you cannot.

No Artificial Flavors

September 1st, 2011
11:57 am

Logical Dude, you are correct in that the TSPLOST creates another layer of bureaucracy. In fact it already has as each region has brought together it’s representatives for the project meetings. If it passes, then these regional groups will then surely have to hire full-time staff to do e jobs that GDOT should be doing. As an example loom no further than our various regional commissions that do what should be done by DCA.

Aquagirl

September 1st, 2011
12:07 pm

you’re basically an uninformed blow-hard that is generally disgusted with those who have done something in their lives that you cannot.

Yeah, like getting free tickets to the Masters tournament. You’re a failure as a human being, carlos, no hob-nobbing with the other important successful guys around the greens. You may, however get a special surprise inspection if you own a limo business. Should you fail, you just didn’t work hard enough.

Wyneisha

September 1st, 2011
12:15 pm

No more government social engineering projects for me, thankyaverymuch.

Thanks to the Community Reinvestment Act I now have subprime next door neighbors (in foreclosure) with knee high grass and a house that’s literally falling apart. Last thing I need is a rail line extension to bring even more out here.

UGA 1999

September 1st, 2011
12:43 pm

Ok I am back. Slow blog today.

Hillbilly D

September 1st, 2011
12:47 pm

Tiberius

For what it’s worth. Back in the 1980’s there were 19 Georgia sheriffs in the State and Federal prison system, at one time. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Citizens from the less-populated regions of the state will be forced to pay a sales tax that will never benefit their communities at all.

Every one of these T-SPLOST districts will be controlled by about 2 counties. Those 2 counties will have all the votes and get all the money. The folks in the outlying counties in each district, will be paying for roads they don’t use.

I don’t live in the Atlanta district, so what y’all do there is none of my business, but it’s worth noting that when MARTA was originally being voted on, back 40+ years ago, the MARTA tax was going to sunset in 10 years. That was one of their selling points. We all know about the tolls on Georgia 400 and how they were supposed to go away. If these T-SPLOSTS get voted in, none of us posting here will live to see the end of them.

MrLiberty

September 1st, 2011
1:12 pm

This is an easy one and always has been. JUST VOTE NO !

jd

September 1st, 2011
1:20 pm

What we have here is a failure to LEAD! — All transportation infrastructure requires maintenance and operations support — the question is which solution is effective and how much is needed. Someone needs to LEAD and say that without such, Georgia is relegated to status behind Mississippi. We are already more than $30 billion behind in maintenance of roads, bridges, sewers, and water systems. And those are existing infrastructure projects. We can’t afford any new systems even though the demand for those services continues to rise. But, with per capita taxes, number of state employees per capita= 1994 levels (some 3 million people ago), and state spending on education per capita below 1994 levels — that sound you hear is the flush of the toilet as we race to the bottom

Really?

September 1st, 2011
2:06 pm

UGA 1999
September 1st, 2011
9:41 am
Not HS Grad College Grad & Post-grad
% of Democrats 32% 15%
% of Independents 22% 18%
% of Republicans 19% 23%

Completely sham. Instead you should look at college grad rates in blue vs red states? Or try incomes. Or even look at what states pay more in federal taxes than they recieve back. (I will give you a hint, it ain’t the red ones. Talk about welfare and handouts….)

http://www.kepkanation.com/2011/04/27/graduation-rates-and-red-and-blue-states/

Road Scholar

September 1st, 2011
3:05 pm

Kyle, you are right if the needed new Transportation bill keeps the anticipated funding levels. But we need a new Transportation bill and a new spending authorization, which may be increased. Of couse the repubs want to cut it.

sleestak

September 1st, 2011
3:26 pm

The tax will be voted down! If This tax is so important for the state then let the WHOLE state pay for it. Not just 10 counties

jbraml

September 1st, 2011
4:11 pm

As a resident of Cherokee county, why should I vote to pay a penny on every dollar I spend to help Fulton and Dekalb? On top of that a bike path give me break. If bike riders what a place to ride let them pay a toll. They are already creating safty issues on roads without paying any road use tax. $700 millon for a line from Lindbergh to Emory, give me a break down of cost per rider.

Churchill's MOM.....Ron Paul for President

September 1st, 2011
4:14 pm

1. How much will Deal Skim off this taxpayer rip off?

2. How much will Reed & the Jackson Family Skim off this taxpayer rip off?

3. How much will MARTA waste due to mismanagement & corruption?