Starting Monday, Columbia County voters can go to the Board of Elections office in Evans to cast a ballot in the July 31 primary.
It’s an important election. In fact, on the purely local level, voter participation arguably is more important than in November’s presidential election. After all, local voters are unlikely to sway a nationwide outcome, but they are the only ones with a voice in local elections.
Following a traditional role of newspapers, in upcoming editions we’ll offer suggestions on candidates for local contested races. Today, we offer recommendations on the two binding questions appearing on all ballots in this year’s primary.
The Transportation Improvement Act, often referred to as the Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, will be decided by regional voters in statewide balloting.
Notwithstanding strong recommendations from local elected officials and chambers of commerce, we urge voters to reject the T-SPLOST.
Few recent ballot questions have been as argued and demagogued, from both sides, as has this referendum. Suffice it to say that the outcome of its passage would be neither as grand as its proponents claim, nor as disastrous as its detractors warn.
Our opposition is based on a couple of fundamental principles that don’t require mind-numbing details about revenue projections:
• No one in their right mind can believe it’s a good idea to raise the sales tax, especially during a struggling economy.
The T-SPLOST is pitched as costing just a penny. But raising the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent represents a 14 percent tax increase – a staggering hike. And in border communities like ours, that’s enough of an additional cost on big purchases to entice shoppers to head to South Carolina to spend rather than keeping their dollars here at home, which makes support for the tax from local business boosters seem odd.
• A general sales tax is the wrong way to pay for transportation.
The appropriate funding mechanism for transportation already exists: The gas tax. It’s applied directly only to motorists, making it the closest thing in our tax code to a user fee, short of highway tolls. Because transportation costs are factored into the price of consumer goods, it’s also broad-based.
If additional transportation improvements beyond those currently funded are so greatly needed – a point we don’t deny – then lawmakers should make the case for an increase in the gas tax to pay for them.
Instead, they created an entirely new tax along with new regional layers of government to spend it, and then handed the hot potato to voters.
No, thanks. We recommend a “no” vote on T-SPLOST.
Columbia County voters also will have the opportunity to allow Sunday package sales of alcohol. Harlem voters will participate in the countywide referendum, as well as one of their own. Grovetown voters passed a similar referendum in November, and sales have been allowed there since December; their voters also will participate in the countywide referendum.
We recommend passage.
With Grovetown and Augusta already allowing Sunday sales, Columbia County and Harlem merchants are at a disadvantage. But that disparity isn’t the best reason for passage. Voters should approve the referendum to correct a nonsensical law.
Currently, anyone of legal age can drive to a Columbia County restaurant any day of the week, consume alcohol and drive back home. Yet only on Sunday, the law prohibits that same customer from driving to a store, buying a six-pack and taking it home.
It’s absurd to have a product that is entirely legal to purchase except for one day of the week. Voters can correct that disparity with a commonsense vote to approve Sunday package sales.
We recommend a “yes” vote.
More than any recommendation on any question or office, we urge all voters to cast a ballot, period. With three weeks of advance voting for five days each week, Saturday voting on July 21, and election day July 31, there is no excuse for every voter not to perform their civic duty.
Please do so.