Not only is this proposal bucking the perfect-storm headwinds of a poor economy and a constant rumbling thunder of “No more taxes, ever!” but the general public’s grasp of what is involved appears miserable due to one of the worst informational campaigns involving a major issue ever seen.
The “usual suspects” of economic boosterism pour out their ignored boilerplate in support, most voters hereabouts watch TV news and ads coming out of Atlanta and many thus wind up believing they’re voting on a tax to bail out the congested metro, and the county tea party holds a “forum” lopsidedly attended by opponents with minds made up — almost 100 appeared in attendance, or less than any “block party” hereabouts that features a keg of free beer.
And all this to be decided as an add-on to a primary election on July 31 where only Republicans are offered any candidate choices and are thus likely to be reinforced at the polls only by those eager to vote, once more and as this space is fond of saying, against paying to build a landing pad for the Second Coming.
UNLESS A HUGE last-minute ad/fact campaign is soon forthcoming with full-page newspaper ads — it is harder to lie and get away with it on the permanence of paper/ink, which is why most political prevarication is now found on TV and the internet — and door-to-door or over-coffee human contact, the TSPLOST is doomed to die.
Which may have been the plan all along.
Even if Floyd Countians show themselves of a progressive mind — as they have in the past — in this one they are badly outnumbered. The local electorate is only about 10 percent of those in the 15 counties affected (only Bartow and Paulding being in the Atlanta-interest orbit). Bartow and Whitfield have roughly the same number of potential voters; Paulding almost twice as many.
Let’s grant there’s stuff not to like in how the TSPLOST has been set up, even as it applies to our Northwest Georgia region. But, as this space noted at the proposal’s outset, it represents what may be the last and best chance for Floyd Countians to get vitally needed, easier, smoother and faster links to the outside world ... and next-door neighbors. Highways like a four-lane to Rockmart to replace a two-lane strewn with roadside crosses; like an industry-luring four-lane from Armuchee/Chattooga straight to the I-75 interchange in Adairsville; like not quite guaranteeing the U.S. 411 Connector but at least driving a public-opinion stake into the heart of the family trying to stop it.
NOT TO MENTION a desperately needed infusion of “discretionary” funds for purely local projects to be determined by each of the participating counties — stuff that has to be done somehow anyway in a time when locally-raised revenues are already inadequate.
Moreover, as Rome City Manager John Bennett warned, the Georgia Department of Transportation will in the future not be providing local road money besides a small paving allocation — budget problems and/or the money is needed to dredge the Savannah harbor — regardless of how the TSPLOST does.
As City Commissioner Kim Canada honestly put it: “People need to know that if the TSPLOST doesn’t pass, we’ll still need to do these things. We’ll have to find the revenue somewhere.”
Well, if it doesn’t come from sales taxes at the hometown level there’s only one source remaining: property taxes. That’s the first “no more taxes” shoe likely to boomerang into the heads of Floyd County taxpayers. That’s not so at the state level should this go down to general defeat, and particularly so if the Atlanta bonanza is denied (the polls don’t show it doing particularly well). And that might well have been the master plan from the beginning.
On Aug. 2, following a TSPLOST defeat the “news” will be elected officeholders and media pundits talking about finding the “lost” and desperately needed road money by tripling the motor-fuels tax to 22/23 cents a gallon (from the present 7.5 cents) and/or building everything as toll roads ... and putting toll gates on some heavily used roads already existing.
AFTER ALL, by defeating the TSPLOST the voters would have indicated they prefer higher pump prices and pay-as-you-use highways — or that’s how it will be “read.” Remember, the gutless wonders more concerned about staying in power didn’t have to put this extra penny before the voters to solve a funding problem. They don’t need referendum permission to raise an existing tax any more than they asked the people before wiping out the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing or turning the way car sales are taxed on their head. There’s even already been talk about adding a penny to the sales tax not for highways but for “general purposes.” And to start collecting it on groceries as well.
No permission via the ballot box necessary. That’s the second “no more taxes” shoe to threaten local noggins.
The TSPLOST is largely a relief-valve concept to possibly delay the other moves. It would raise (just in the Northwest Georgia region) some $1.4 billion across 10 years or about $140 million a year. A higher motor-fuels levy and/or tolls would likely last forever and raise many, many billions more.
Not only that but the TSPLOST specifies what roads/projects are to be funded. Any replacement revenue stream, thanks to shenanigans by the past/present administration/legislature, will no longer be spent as determined by the DOT road planners. Instead the governor and General Assembly — meaning the power brokers — will largely pick where the paving goes. Perhaps, a decade or more into the future, this area will have a “power broker” or two. It sure doesn’t now, meaning that for Greater Rome a bird in the hand (the TSPLOST) is worth two in the bush.
IF THIS highly unpleasant scenario comes as a surprise to many readers, it really shouldn’t. This is Georgia, after all. Which means there’s always a lot of reason to actually pay close attention.
At least the regional TSPLOST involves the voters knowing what they will get (specific, named roads) and how much they will pay (a penny more per spent dollar for 10 years). If it is defeated — which is possible even if 100 percent of Floyd Countians vote for it — they don’t know if they will ever get any roads at all or how much they will be paying to help Atlantans and others get theirs.
When given a choice between a devil of known details and the deep blue sea of a bottomless unknown, go with the devil.