Area residents have been hearing a lot about TSPLOST in recent weeks. In the months to come, they are going to be hearing a whole lot more.
Forsyth Countians will have a chance to learn more about SPLOST this week, when a public hearing is held in Cumming on Thursday. It will be one of a series of hearings held in the region prior to the Oct. 15 adoption of a final list of proposed TSPLOST projects.
The 1 percent transportation tax proposed by the state to be implemented on a regional basis is such a departure from anything done before in Georgia that it needs a lot of explanation. Given the current economic and anti-tax environment, those promoting the idea have major hurdles to navigate in drumming up support.
The transportation tax is novel in Georgia for a couple of reasons. It establishes a mechanism whereby a tax for funding of major transportation projects can be approved on a regional basis, so that some parts of Georgia could participate in the program while others do not. That’s a major departure from traditional transportation funding, which has relied on statewide collection of a gas tax to support financing of projects everywhere.
Because of the need for approval of a regional project list, the TSPLOST is also a very political concept. It requires officials in various city and county governments to work together on prioritizing projects that impact constituencies other than their own.
For the first time, voters in one county will be asked to cast a ballot that impacts transportation projects on a regional basis, rather than at the local or state level.
The stakes in next year’s TSPLOST vote are tremendously high. If approved by all 12 of the regions in Georgia, the tax could generate an estimated $1.4 billion a year for transportation in Georgia. In the region that includes Forsyth County, the tax is projected to generate $1.26 billion over the 10 years it is scheduled to be in place.
That there is a need for a focused investment in transportation infrastructure in the state is undeniable. While at the conceptual level transportation involves much more than just road building, in reality for most of Georgia road construction and repair is where the greatest need exists.
As of now the TSPLOST vote is scheduled for next July, when Georgia holds its primary elections. An effort to move the referendum to next year’s general election in November was aborted in the recently concluded special section of the state legislature, but may well resurface when the General Assembly convenes in January.
What’s truly problematic is that a number of state officials who have advocated for the regional sales tax as a funding mechanism for infrastructure have openly admitted there is no "Plan B," for the state, at least not now. All the eggs are sitting in the TSPLOST basket, and if the year-plus effort to win voter support fails, it’s back to the drawing board with very few crayons available.
We encourage you to attend this week’s public hearing in order to understand the TSPLOST concept, and to become educated about the TSPLOST before next year’s referendum. As some officials already have noted, if passed by all of Georgia’s regions TSPLOST has the potential to be the largest tax increase in the state’s history. It also has the potential to provide desperately needed funding for infrastructure needs that affect the well being and quality of life of every resident of the state.