Rep Hatfield on T-SPLOST

I don’t normally bump comments to the front page, but Representative Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross) posted a pretty good comment on why he voted against the T-SPLOST.

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.

One comment

  1. Progressive Dem says:

    Sen. Johnson and Rep. Hatfield are to be commended for explaining their views and votes publicly and contributing to the public discussion. However, I believe they have grossly missed the mark on “taxation without representation”. There are at least three ways that local representation is built into the process.

    First, each county commission chairman is going to be working with their fellow county commission chairmen, transportation professionals and their RDC staff to determine a set of possible projects that could be funded with the T-SPOST. This involvement of the counties’ chief executives will entail negotiation. If the projects are not mutually beneficial they won’t gain the support of the Commission Chair. It is safe to assume that a final project list will not emerge from the RDC until the proposed projects benefit everyone being taxed. RDCs also have a tradition of using citizen input to formulate their plans. RDCs will be conducting public hearing to gather ideas and gauge support for particular projects.

    The next bite at the apple is when the question to put the referendum on the ballot is put before each county commission. The locally elected officials will review the projects and determine if the projects will benefit the respective county. Each county commission is permitted to opt out of the proposed T-SPLOST referendum. If a county commission decides that it doesn’t want to participate, the referendum will not be on the ballot in that county and no taxes are ever collected from that county.

    Finally, the people of the region get to vote and decide whether they want to tax themselves. This is analogous to a State sales tax referendum – the majority rules. If some counties vote against a tax increase, but the majority of the state votes for it, the tax is imposed everywhere, even in counties that opposed the tax increase.

    In many ways the T_SPLOST offers much more representation than a statewide measure. The T-SPLOST is a sophisticated solution to a complex problem. When the referendum comes before the people, the amount of tax will be known, the projects to be funded will be known and the sunset of the tax will be known. It has been used successfully in San Diego and other areas. The metro Atlanta region was, and is trying to be self-sufficient, and taxing itself to fix its problems. The general assembly needs to permit us to self-reliant.

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