Johnson on T-SPLOST

The following is a statement from Senate Pro-Tem Eric Johnson on the failed T-SPLOST (SR 845) votes that took place on Sine Die and his reasons for voting against the proposal.

Recent reports have hinted that “Senate leadership” may have voted against T-SPLOST (SR 845) because the Governor opposed it. That is incorrect. And there are reports of political revenge by “business interests” against those who voted against higher taxes for roads. I hope that this is incorrect, too.

While I cannot speak for other Senators, I believe that they were opposed for the same reason I was – it amounted to ‘taxation without representation’. That issue started a revolution 232 years ago and I believe it would have started another one if it had passed.

When SR 845 left the Senate on February 20, it passed 51-4. It would have allowed any county to add an additional one penny sales tax for transportation needs. Like other Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST), it would be for specific projects for a limited time and require voter approval. I voted “YES”.

On April 4, with literally 4 minutes left on the last day of the session, the Senate was presented with a new version that allowed a large group of counties to decide on regional road projects and then voted on by every county in the region. If a county voted against it, but it passed regionally, that county’s taxes were raised anyway. That was obviously unacceptable to many Senators, including me.

As a proposed Constitutional amendment, it required a 2/3 vote. It passed comfortably in the House, but failed in the Senate by 3 votes. 14 of 34 Republican Senators, including their 4 top leaders, and 4 Democrat Senators, including the Minority Leader, voted against the final version of the bill. The bill was reconsidered and failed again by the same vote.

I represent a portion of a large county (Chatham) and two smaller counties (Bryan and Liberty). Under the provisions of SR 845, Chatham County voters could outnumber the two smaller counties and force their taxes to increase. That is political suicide. It also isn’t fair. I make no apologies.

I want to help with traffic relief. I voted for T-SPLOST. But I couldn’t support what we were faced with at the last minute. I also believe that, if SR 845 had passed and been on the ballot for voter confirmation, it would have been defeated. We can come back and give local communities the ability to raise their own taxes if they want, but we should never allow someone to raise it against their will.

Sen. Eric Johnson
President Pro Tempore

5 comments

  1. joe says:

    Senator Johnson is exactly right in his reasoning. Thanks, I just wish my Senator had figured it out.

  2. Bull Moose says:

    I agree with Eric, for the reasons he states, and for the reason that DOT is still in turmoil. Pumping in billions in new funding now would just continue the disfunction and corruption.

    Next year, hopefully, when the Commissioner is able to make heads or tails of DOT, we will have real reforms in place to stop political cronyism, antiquated planning, and anemic public participation plans.

  3. Rep Hatfield says:

    While I completely agree with Senator Johnson’s “taxation without representation” point, there are a number of other reasons, including my general refusal to support any tax increase, why this T-SPLOST proposal was a bad idea.

    For one thing, the proposed constitutional amendment, SR 845, and its companion general bill, HB 1035, would have essentially vested in regional development centers a significant power which they have historically never had: taxing authority. True, the individual county commissions as well as a majority of the voters in the “special transportation district” would have to approve the imposition of the tax. Nevertheless, the RDCs would be given the power to develop the list of “transportation purposes,” to initiate the process, to decide when the tax would sunset (as the bill provides no definite number of years), to decide the maximum number of dollars to be raised, and to decide when to submit the referendum to the voters. These are all pretty weighty decisions to be turned over to organizations which have never had anything more than a planning function.

    Also, while both the amendment and the bill refer to “transportation purposes,” rather than “transportation projects,” as the proposed use for the T-SPLOST, the definition of “transportation purposes” is open-ended (“transportation purposes shall include, but not be limited to…”) and would likely open the doors for any number of schemes only tangentially related to actual transportation needs. In fact, there’s nothing in this T-SPLOST proposal which would require, in the Metro Atlanta area in particular, that the tax proceeds be used for congestion relief, which I thought was the ultimate goal underlying the business community’s efforts here.

    One other thing that raises a red flag about SR 845, the constitutional amendment, is that the proposed ballot question is really insufficient to fairly put voters on notice that they are being asked to authorize new taxing scheme: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow that all revenue currently collected from motor fuel taxes be designated to fund transportation AND TO PROVIDE FOR COMMUNITIES AND REGIONS TO SOLVE THEIR TRANSPORTATION PROBLEMS THROUGH A REFERENDUM?” It really seems that if the General Assembly is determined to ask voters to approve a tax increase, we should do the people the favor of being straight forward with the question.

    I voted against the T-SPLOST every time it came up for a vote this year, both on the House Floor and in the Transportation Committee. I voted against it for the reasons above, but also for a more fundamental reason: I believe that if state transportation funding (or any other subject for that matter) is deemed to be a top priority by the legislature, then it ought to be funded through the appropriations process, not through another half-baked SPLOST proposal. We in Georgia really need to get away from the idea of creating a new taxing scheme every time additional revenue is needed. With few exceptions, if it’s not important enough to be funded through the budget, it ought not to be funded at all.

    Sorry for the long post. It’s my first time and all.

  4. Dave Bearse says:

    Good points, but the last paragraph touches on the problem…. Transportation is not at all a priority for the 50% of the legislators representing districts where transportation is subsidized by metro Atlanta transportation tax dollars.

  5. Harry says:

    Thank you, Rep Hatfield. Georgia does still have principled legislators. Not all are paid for by or afraid of “business interests” – road contractors and suppliers, railroads, politically connected engineering companies, etc.

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