The closer we get to the July 31 T-SPLOST referendum, it seems, the more claims we hear from the pro-tax campaign about its supposed benefits. Here’s the low-down on four common claims made about the $7.2 billion tax and the 157 projects it would fund.
1. Metro Atlanta commuters already pay a “congestion tax” of $924 a year.
This figure, taken from a study by the Texas Transportation Institute, accounts for the cost of wasting fuel and time in traffic. T-SPLOST supporters argue this is an indirect “tax” on commuters, and that the 1 percent sales tax will mitigate it.
Perhaps. But they don’t acknowledge the average household stands to pay more if the T-SPLOST passes.
Commuters aren’t the only people who would pay the sales tax, so let’s look at households. Based on Census data about commuters (see page 29) and household size in the 10-county region, the household “congestion tax” would be $986 a year. A study by the Atlanta Regional Commission found the projects funded by the tax would cut congestion by 24 percent at most. So, we can expect the household “congestion tax” to fall by no more than 24 percent, or $237.
Given state revenue estimates (see second table), each household’s share of the tax would start at $447.
Of course, visitors would pay some of the $447. But if residents foot even half the bill, the savings from the “congestion tax” is just a wash. If residents bear a larger share of the burden, the T-SPLOST plus the remaining “congestion tax” will cost more than what tax supporters say we pay now.
2. The T-SPLOST will get you home faster.
The very same data used for the “congestion tax” show congestion adds relatively little to the average commute: up to 10 minutes of the hour a typical commuter spends in the car every day. Sheer distance between home and work accounts for the rest of the time.
If congestion were to fall by 24 percent, then, the average commute would shrink by less than 2.5 minutes a day — only about a minute each way.
3. The T-SPLOST will be an economic boost.
You can’t spend $7.2 billion without improving the economy, right? It’s the same theory, writ small, President Barack Obama used to justify his 2009 “stimulus” package.
But taking money out of one part of the economy and putting it in another is an awfully inefficient path to economic growth — at best. And make no mistake: Money that goes to the T-SPLOST is money that won’t go to local businesses.
Worse, it doesn’t even fit the (questionable) idea of stimulating the economy by moving future consumption into the present. Projected timelines for the projects indicate that, in the first three years, the tax will collect $1.72 billion for regional projects — but spend just $812 million. The other half of the money will be pushed into the future. It’s unlikely the spending would catch up with the tax collections until 2018.
That might be a prudent way to plan infrastructure spending, but it looks like a half-decade drag on the economy.
4. There’s no “Plan B.”
As I’ve argued before, this claim ignores the possibility of voting again on a better project list in two years. In fact, the only thing that truly precludes another option is the T-SPLOST.
That’s because we will have used the biggest available revenue-raising tool. Even if the projects prove ineffective, our only option will be to renew the tax — or find another way to pay the tens of millions of dollars a year in operating costs for the transit projects this tax will create. If we OK this tax, we likely will be stuck with it, and without other options, for decades.
– By Kyle Wingfield