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Town hall will provide T-SPLOST info

Posted: June 6, 2012 - 12:00am

The basic reason for the upcoming referendum on the Transportation Improvement Act is that politicians are gutless.

Of course, in politics, one man’s “gutless” is another man’s “responsiveness to voters.” But it is fear of voters that often prevents politicians from doing the right thing, because they know the power of campaign demagoguery to derail their future in office.

That’s why, for example, the criminal justice reform legislation approved in Georgia this year is far less ambitious than its supporters initially planned. Because they take no action without first contemplating how a potential political opponent could caricature it to voters, lawmakers were extra-careful not to make any reforms that seem too “soft on crime.”

It’s the same with the state’s effort to put more money into transportation repairs and upgrades. As columnist Tom Crawford notes today, and as Georgia Public Policy Foundation analyst Baruch Feighenbaum and others have written, the mechanism for that already exists: increasing the state’s gasoline tax.

But because politicians are scared to death of being accused of raising taxes, they won’t touch the idea. Instead, they created the convoluted TIA and are presenting it to voters. That way, they hope to get more money for transportation, while letting voters handle the tax-hiking hot potato.

In doing so, they’ve also created a regional Frankenstein system that raises a tax unrelated or only marginally related to its use, and then shares that money inequitably among regions. Oh, and it gives each of the counties in those regions a slush fund (called “discretionary spending”) for local politicians to spread around.

If anyone wonders why asphalt-makers and gravel-miners are pushing this thing so hard, there’s your shovel-ready answer.

Even so, it’s been more than a little annoying to see knee-jerk judgments on both sides of this issue. Attacks on lawmakers for enabling the referendum in the first place have been downright childish. Sure, the vote is merely a way for politicians to sidestep their responsibilities. But if these critics believe giving citizens a direct say in their own taxation is bad, one must assume they prefer dictatorships. No, thanks.

On the flip side, it’s nearly as troubling to see the typical power-appeasers dutifully – and uncritically – flocking to support a “yes” vote on the referendum, seemingly without regard to the tremendous negative consequences possible from its passage.

For those who haven’t made up their minds, tonight’s town hall meeting sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce is one place to start. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center in the library in Evans.

I would suggest that anyone attending tonight’s session, or the one coming up in July, do so with both an open mind and healthy skepticism. Pay attention to the details of the presentation, what’s said and what isn’t. There’s no value to going in with your mind slammed shut either way, or to just clap or hiss when you hear something you like or dislike. You might as well stay home and watch reruns of “Jerry Springer” if that’s the best attitude you can bring to the table.

But by all means: Keep in mind that while tonight’s town hall is billed as a program “to educate voters,” it mostly is intended to influence voters to approve the T-SPLOST. It’s a sales pitch. Listen to it as you would sit through one of those seminars for a time-share: If you decide it’s a good deal, buy in with your vote. If you don’t, don’t.

After reading enough about it to make my head hurt, I highly doubt there’s one more thing they could tell me that would persuade me to vote in favor of paying more sales tax on every purchase.

But don’t take my word for it. Hear what the boosters and the detractors have to say, and make an informed judgment accordingly.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

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Comments (11)

Craig Spinks

I'll take...

your word for it.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

Riverman1

One Cent is a Huge Increase Although it Sounds Minimal

Realize adding one cent to the sales tax is a huge increase percentage wise. Be ever vigilant as government adds taxes in these tough economic times or any time. They never go away. In addition this 13 county region will be dominated by Richmond County with their projects. What we will have is another nebulous level of government controlling our money above the county. It will be hard to find anyone to hold accountable. NO!!!

Little Lamb

APT

Riverman is correct in that Augusta will dominate the region in discretionary money. And in the non-discretionary money, a huge chunk is dedicated to operation, maintenance and capital for the Augusta Public Transit system. Is that where you want your T-SPLOST sales tax to go?

Go to the meeting if you want to. But in the end, vote NO!

Little Lamb

Boosters & Detractors

Barry Paschal wrote:

But don’t take my word for it. Hear what the boosters and the detractors have to say, and make an informed judgment accordingly.

That sounds like good advice.

Sadly, the boosters (government leaders plus those asphalt-makers and gravel-miners Barry wrote about above) are organized and skilled in influencing the masses. We detractors are fragmented and virtually inarticulate by comparison.

Thank you for your well-reasoned column, Mr. Paschal. You have provided good information above.

Many Arrows

My comment got deleted

The public absolutely doesn't trust politicians.

They got hammered.

occupiedsince1865

TSPLOST Info

Mr. Paschal is correct. Transportation-wise, Georgia is suffering from a huge lack of leadership and initiative. But waiting on the Governor, legislature or DOT to effect a hike in the gasoline tax is likely never to happen, exactly because they don't want to be held responsible for it. They'd rather the taxpayer be culpable.
But by surrendering responsibilty, they also surrender control. Our local representatives have worked out the project list, and all projects will start in a staggered fashion over the next few years, begining in 2013. The voter will approve or reject any extension of the tax and if rejected it will sunset in ten years, period.
Those that are in favor of a gasoline tax should remember that even if you walk to a store to buy something, that product came to the store by truck, which ran on local roads. Therefore, everyone is a user of the roads, personal vehicle or not and the TSPLOST is more fair than a gasoline tax.
Others are concerned about TSPLOST being loaded with funds for public transportation. The Columbia County project list has zero allocation for public transportation and the closest it gets to it on the Richmond County list is some airport apron improvement; one minor project.
There has been a lot written in local papers about this proposal, and it looks to me are people are opining without ever having read a single sourced fact about it. There is more misinformation out there than truth. Before casting your vote, please look at connectgeorgia2012.com, and then draw a considered opinion.

B. Heubel

Riverman1

Always interesting to see

Always interesting to see the first post anyone has ever made on a subject. It tells you that the subject is important to them.

blues550

No New Taxes

We do not need any new taxes. There is enough waste in government to find more than enough money to fix roads.

Many Arrows

ConnectGA2012 is a Propagandist

It is a 501-3(c) made up of lobbyists. Here are some facts for you all. 1.) This is a 14.2% sales tax increase. Frugal people are insane to volunteer for anything that makes their cost of living double in 5 years, as this tax does. 2.) Columbia County gives up $2 million (Richmond gives up $5 million!) to entice rural counties who otherwise want no part of this 3.) It is a whole new level of government - regional! 4.) The bill says there are only 5 voting members out of 13 counties on the executive board - taxation without representation 5) If it passes in urban counties overwhelming, the votes of those in rural counties don't matter and their counties are IN even if said county voted it down 6) Connectga2012, commissioners, and Chamber types are LYING about the revenue projections, which are $200 million too high 7) Mr. Cross keeps saying the state will "guarantee" the funds to build the 75% investment list projects 8) They are already talking about diverting fuel taxes to NON HIGHWAY uses 9) There is a juicy provision that allows counties to charge for ADMINISTRATION in the bill 10) DOT committed accounting fraud so bad that Sonny Perdue accused them of "ENRON ACCOUNTING" 11) Despite what Ron Cross says, this BILL says DOT will build the investment list in the 11 rural counties and they dictate who and how the 25% "discretionary" projects are built 12) DOT's Long admits that DOT is set up to administer or 'consult,' charging fees 13) 17% of motor fuel tax is diverted into general revenues instead of being used on "priority" projects 14) ConnectGA2012 accuses us of misrepresentation, but THEY are the ones being PAID TO LIE

Many Arrows

If DOT is cut out of funds how come?

DOT is all over the state promoting it?

Many Arrows

Guarantee eh?

Ron Cross after saying the state would GUARANTEE the money to build the investment projects was reminded that the state also "guaranteed" counties would be made whole from 3 different property tax exemptions but now the MONEY IS GONE AND SO IS THE "GUARANTEE!"

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